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STS Shining Example Awards

These shining stars embody the spirit behind the Southeast Tourism Society.


Elizabeth Russell, Rising Star Award

The Southeast Tourism Society presented its 2021 Rising Star Award to Elizabeth Russell. Russell serves as in-market strategist for the Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau in Mississippi.

The Rising Star Award recognizes extraordinary on-the-job performance by a person who has worked in tourism or travel for five years or less. Nominees are evaluated on leadership, enthusiasm for the industry, innovation, successful programs or events, and other accomplishments. Extra consideration goes to nominees who are involved in the industry outside their normal employment.

As an in-market strategist, Russell meets with community partners and event organizers to help them develop tools and resources to enhance the visitor experience in Tupelo. During the pandemic, she made herself available to restaurateurs around the clock, helping them find new ways to operate. She is called a tenacious problem solver and has been recognized for discovering and implementing exciting new programs that elevate the city’s tourism industry.

Rob Masone, Best Epicurean Partner Award

The Southeast Tourism Society presented its 2021 Best Epicurean Partner Award to Rob Masone. Masone is the chef owner of Kounter, a new restaurant in Rock Hill, South Carolina, built around a historic lunch counter that was the site of local sit-ins during the civil rights era.

The Best Epicurean Partner Award recognizes restaurants, caterers, wineries, distilleries or other food and beverage organizations that support their communities. They are exceptional partners during FAM tours, community events and times of crisis.

Masone has garnered widespread attention from media outlets and social media influencers for Kounter’s unique and interactive dining experience, which blends handcrafted cuisine with impactive history. In addition to opening the restaurant and shining a spotlight on civil rights, he has helped advance Rock Hill’s tourism community by leading workforce forums to create a pipeline of talent for the area’s hospitality businesses.

Herb Malone, The Beacon Award

The Southeast Tourism Society presented its 2021 Beacon Award to Herb Malone. Malone recently retired as the CEO of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism in coastal Alabama.

The Beacon Award recognizes individuals that exemplify outstanding leadership in the pursuit of excellence and have advanced the tourism industry. Judges consider the nominees’ accomplishments, innovations, performance, integrity and empowerment of others over the course of an entire career.

Malone has been referred to as the “grandfather of tourism” in Alabama by his peers in the state. He led the area’s tourism community through several crises, including Hurricane Ivan in 2004, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, and the COVID-19 pandemic and Hurricane Sally in 2020. He also led the growth of Alabama’s Gulf Shores region from a sleepy beach community to a year-round tourism destination that welcomes more than 6 million visitors each year.

Topside Tap Trail, Partnership Award

The Southeast Tourism Society presented its 2021 Partnership Award to the Topside Tap Trail. The Topside Tap Trail is a cooperative effort of destination marketing organizations in Roswell, Alpharetta and Sandy Springs, Georgia — all suburbs in the northern part of the Greater Atlanta area — to highlight local breweries.

The Partnership Award recognizes effective partnerships within the tourism industry. Nominees demonstrate how the partnership has affected their organizations and share plans for further collaborations.

The Topside Tap Trail is a collaboration across communities to showcase seven craft brewery locations. It was established to ensure that the area’s beer culture was recognized by locals and visitors alike. The CVBs in the three participating cities partnered to name and brand the trail, create a website, develop a video to highlight the trail and each of its breweries and print a trail guide to help travelers explore the breweries at their own pace.

Steve Morse, Spirit of STS Award

The Southeast Tourism Society presented its 2021 Dorothy Hardman Spirit of STS Award to the late Steve Morse. Morse was the dean of the School of Business at Middle Georgia State University in Macon. 

The Spirit of STS Award recognizes an individual that best expresses the genuine love and devotion that Dorothy Hardman had for the organization, its members and its purpose. Winners are selected by a small, anonymous committee.

Morse was an academic expert in the area of hospitality, tourism and economic development. He developed the Economic Significance of Tourism Toolkit, which was used by STS and others to showcase tourism’s power for creating jobs, payroll and tax revenues for destination marketing organizations. He served as a professor at Southeast Tourism Society Marketing College for 11 years until his death in April, 2021. His wife, Mary Morse, accepted the award on his behalf.