There’s no denying it: Travel is back, but some of the professionals you know and love from the travel industry are not.
The chaos of the pandemic caused a lot of reshuffling in the tourism industry, with many veterans departing and newer people taking their place. The news is not all bad though — among the new faces in tourism are a crop of talented, friendly and creative people passionate about delivering great travel experiences.
So grab a coffee, sit back and get to know some new friends in the business you’ll meet as you plan trips for 2023 and beyond.
Ian Wallis, Sales and Marketing Manager
Louisiana’s Cajun Bayou, Lafourche Parish, Louisiana
Wanderlust is at the heart of every travel pro. For proof, look no further than Ian Wallis, Louisiana’s Cajun Bayou Tourism’s newest sales and marketing manager. From jet-setting with his family as a teen to earning his degree in travel and tourism management — and later an MBA with a hospitality concentration — Wallis has always loved stepping into new cultures.
Wallis was on a FAM trip in Norway when the world shut down in 2020. The loss of that position didn’t deter him from his dream of working in tourism, though. In April 2021, the stars aligned: He joined Louisiana Cajun Bayou Tourism.
“I’ve eaten more seafood in the last year and a half than I have in my entire life,” he said with a laugh.
The biggest thing he’s learned about his unapologetically Cajun destination is the centrality of food.
“Here the calendar runs on food,” he said. “King cakes after New Year; crawfish in spring; shrimp in summer; then fall, oysters; and then you switch to gumbo weather in the winter.”
His best planner tip is inspired by a recent tourism challenge: restaurants so short-staffed they have to cancel or downsize bookings.
“We’re keen to find unique places that aren’t necessarily restaurants that will enhance the experience,” he said. “Last week we transformed a movie theater into a dining room and served amazing fare. Afterward, they said that the dining experience beat any they’d had at a restaurant.”
His favorite part of working in this industry? “The connections and people you meet along the way,” Wallis said. “Especially here in Louisiana, the tourism industry is one big happy family.”
Gracia Pinzino, Group Sales and Services Manager
St. Joseph, Missouri CVB, Buchanan County, Missouri
The St. Joseph, Missouri, native and CVB group sales and services manager describes her journey to the tourism industry as “circuitous.”
“I spent my first 26 years in St. Joseph,” Pinzino said. Life took her overseas to Germany and Kenya, then back to the states via D.C., New York City and south Florida. “I returned with new eyes to how special my hometown is,” she said.
Circuitous — just like the journey a Pony Express rider would make from St. Joseph to Sacramento in 1860.
Pinzino was the St. Joseph CVB office manager for three years before transitioning to the group sales and services manager role in 2020, a hand-in-glove fit for her personality. Pinzino enjoys surprising groups with how much there is to offer.
“St. Jo in its heyday was a really important city,” Pinzino said. “The Pony Express originated here. Once you crossed the Missouri River you were in uncharted territory — literally.”
And her role has taught her a great deal about St. Joseph.
“We have 14 museums, a symphony, a 1927 Paramount Movie Palace,” she said. “There’s very few of those left in the country. For a town of 76,000, that’s a lot.”
Pinzino’s best St. Jo tip for group planners? Jump on attractions that offer multiple things in one stop.
“Check out the Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art, where you can do the tour, lunch and hands-on activities. The Glore Psychiatric Museum is a top attraction in the state with entry to other attractions. A visit to the Patee House Museum includes a carousel, Buffalo Saloon and the Jesse James Home.”
Courtney Hansen, Director of Tourism
RaeAnn Thomas, Destination Sales and Marketing Manager
Visit Manitowoc, Wisconsin
On the banks of Lake Michigan, Visit Manitowoc is home to two relatively new faces in tourism.
Courtney Hansen joined the organization as the director of tourism in February of this year, and in March, RaeAnn Thomas became the city’s destination sales and marketing manager.
Unique paths brought them to Manitowoc.
“I had a unique first job out of college,” Hansen said. “I was Miss Wisconsin 2016. Later I was on the city council. As I traveled around working with the chambers, visitor bureaus and municipalities, I fell in love with the industry. When this role came up, it was the perfect way to blend my love of tourism, travel and the city.”
Thomas found her way to tourism through her sales career. “I’ve always been in sales, and I was born and raised here in Manitowoc,” she said. “I fell in love with tourism, the people — and I love to travel. So getting to sell my wonderful community to other planners is a dream.”
Hansen and Thomas were excited to share their passions, too.
“Seeing how excited people get when they come to Manitowoc is absolutely my favorite thing,” Thomas said.
Hansen agreed. “That blown-away feeling people have when they come here is one of my favorite things to watch. Seeing those gears turning as they realize this is a place they want to come time and time again — there’s nothing better.”
What can group travel planners take advantage of in Manitowoc?
“The relaxation,” Thomas said. “We have big city amenities, but there is no big city hustle and bustle.”
“Get ready to be blown away by our lake,” Hansen said. “Being raised here, I forget sometimes how awesome it is to live on our great lakes. Our downtown is in the heart, and our riverfront can’t be beat.”
Shelbi Walker. Sales and Engagement Manager
Visit Concord, Concord, California
California was calling Shelbi Walker. The question was, how was she going to get to the Bay Area from her home state of New Mexico without a job lined up?
Walker, Visit Concord’s newest sales and engagement manager, always wanted to work in hospitality. Citing her hospitality and communications degree, she said, “I have worked in hotels and restaurants since I was 16. I knew what I wanted but not where I wanted it.”
Luckily, while living in Albuquerque, Walker met the Visit Concord CEO.
“I was able to connect with her and show her Albuquerque from a local’s standpoint,” she said. “She was impressed — and I landed the job.”
Since coming on board Visit Concord in June of 2019, Walker has climbed the ranks. She began as a marketing and outreach coordinator, then advanced outreach and sales specialist and, most recently, was named sales manager in January 2021.
“I’m learning more of the marketing side as well as running the CVB as a whole,” Walker said. “That’s one big thing I’m diving in deep right now.”
Her favorite group attractions are the Concord Pavilion and the Concord Taco Trail.
“Our outdoor amphitheater — one of the only ones in the East Bay — is home to the Concord Jazz festival,” she said. “And the Concord Taco Trail is a fun way to discover downtown on a taco-eating field trip that ends at a local brewery.”
With a soft spot for lodging, it’s no surprise what she enjoys most about her role.
“I think that my favorite part is being able to be the middleman for the hotels and being able to sell the entire city, and not just one hotel but the entire destination.”
Michael Dorie, Destination Experience and Tour Manager
Visit Mobile, Mobile, Alabama
“People joke, but when I tell them I arrived in Mobile for the first time on a boat, I’m serious,” said Michael Dorie, Visit Mobile’s destination experience and tour manager.
Dorie has just completed his first year at the DMO, but he’s been entertaining travelers for much longer. The licensed boat captain delighted tourists on Lake Superior for years. The company summered in Lake Superior and wintered on the Gulf Coast, where he was introduced to Mobile from the water for the first time.
Later, when the company owner sold the business and left Mobile, Dorie and his family stayed.
“I had a choice of where I wanted to go. I chose Mobile,” he said.
Once he and his family made the Gateway to the Gulf their home, he began his own ecotourism company. Entrepreneurism let him remain in the industry he loved while exploring Mobile Bay and getting to know its visitors.
“I enjoy traveling and talking to travelers, comparing notes and experiences and hearing about what people have seen and done,” he said. “It’s fascinating.”
But after a while, Dorie began to consider a career change.
“I was getting burnt out prior to the pandemic, and that was the last straw,” he said. “But the opportunity with Visit Mobile came up, and it was a natural fit. I knew this is the direction I’d been wanting to go.”
Dorie enjoys the work with convention and tour groups.
“I make sure our visitors have the most incredible time and get the experience they’re really looking for,” he said.
That brings us to his best insider tip for travel planners: spend more time in Mobile.
“People will call me and ask for a three-day itinerary, but I’ve got 10 days of stuff,” he said with a laugh. “Beaches, shopping, ecosystems, history, dining and some of the finest attractions in the nation.”
Dorie’s best-of list for big groups in Mobile includes the U.S.S. Alabama, Bellingrath Gardens and the Mobile Carnival Museum.