2017 Speaker Agenda

2017 Highlighted Sessions and Speaker's Bios
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TUESDAY, OCT. 17 - Casual Business Attire
Keynote Session 12:30 PM to 1:30 PM              
♦ "Tourism in the United States" 
     -Nan Marchand Beauvois of US Travel Association

Breakout Sessions  2:00 PM to 3:15 PM               
♦ How to Tap into Group Tours 
     -Micheal Collins, Nebraska Tourism Commission Group Tours

♦ Re-creating Authentic Downtown Communities
     -Dan Senftner, CEO Destination Rapid City

This session is offered both on Tuesday and Wednesday to provide the opportunity for everyone to hear Dan's presentation. He will share how the creation of a central gathering space is an economic catalyst for downtown communities. Tourists and regional visitors seek out authentic experiences and are increasingly looking for “where the locals are.” In this session, learn how to successfully incorporate a central plaza into your downtown, foster community pride, increase tourist spending and capitalize on downtown revitalization projects.  Dan is available to spend one-on-one time with those that are interested.  Dan will be available the entire conference, so please let him know when you would be available for a 20 minute slot of his time.                                                 

♦ Turning a Wild Idea into a Successful Business
-Tim Vala, Vala's Pumpkin Patch
Tim, a city boy from Omaha with a Degree in Education and having trouble finding a full-time job in the school systems, had a wild idea that he could become a farmer.  Luckily, he came upon some land he could buy a little at a time, bought a tractor he didn’t know how to drive home and planted fruits and vegetables he didn’t know how to grow.  Research, self-education and perseverance helped him succeed.  Today, Vala’s Pumpkin Patch has grown into a 212-acre operation with nearly 55 acres of pumpkins planted every year.  His wife Jan took on the crucial business roles of marketer, merchandise manager, personnel manager and accountant.  Today she works full time for Vala’s Pumpkin Patch and is known to always remember each of the 600+ employees’ names.  Hear their amazing story of how a wild idea became a successful family business that is now slowly transitioning over to the next generation.

Breakout Sessions 
3:45 PM to 5:00 PM  

♦ Thinking Outside the Box for Festivals and Events
-Brenda Leisy, Old West Balloon Fest
-Stacy Ann Griffin, Nebraska Cigar Festival
 -Deborah Ward, Omaha Beer Tour
-David Fudge, Nebraskaland Days
♦ Videos for Tourism Pros- How to Easily Create WOW!       
-Catherine Heeg, Travel in Style Inc.

3, 2, 1 Action!  Video is the newest way to reach more fans and amplify your social marketing.  We’ll focus on providing tips to produce your own videos as well as tools to fire up your imagination.  Learn how to: •Create short videos of still photos •Secrets to Live video •Market your videos socially and amplify your messaging •Capture images and footage that inspire people to travel.  In this intermediate session you’ll walk away with examples, tools, best practices and techniques that will have you integrating a variety of types of video into a variety of social platforms.

♦ Use Marketing and Economic Impact Reports to Advance Your Community
-Leon Aliski, Dean Runyan & Associates

Sarpy County Showcase Event at Vala's Pumpkin Patch  6:00 PM to 9:00 PM    
Sarpy County Tourism is excited about the Community Night on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017, and would like to invite you all to be our guests at Vala's Pumpkin Patch for the evening.  At 6:00 pm, Vala Pumpkin Patch owners Tim and Jan Vala extend a warm welcome to you to experience their bonfires, the Pavilion and a yummy dinner from at 6:00 pm. There will be passes for train rides around the property. Admission and meal are covered by Sarpy County Tourism. Bring a jacket. Wear comfortable shoes.  
Bring cash if you would like to take home delicious fudge, kettle korn, yummy pies, souvenirs, a pumpkin or gourds. Vala’s hosted over 300,000 visitors within a five weeks time in 2016.  With over 50 attractions, three live shows daily; it is an attraction you will want to see!  The Patch closes at 9:00 pm. 
Vala’s is approximately eight miles from the La Vista Conference Center; an easy drive for those who would like to drive your own vehicle; or hop on the bus provided by Sarpy County Tourism.  

WEDNESDAY, OCT. 18 - Casual Business Attire
Registration Open/Breakfast  7:30 AM                                  
Legislation Update 
8:00 AM to 8:30 AM

  -Andy Pollock                
General Session  8:30 AM to 9:45 AM               
♦ Tourism Powers Economic Development
     -George Zimmermann, Longwood International USA, Inc.

Breakout Sessions  10:15 AM to 11:30 AM             
♦ Social Media 
     -Dave Flugge                                                  
♦ Tourism Signage and Markers
Wayfinding Signage:
     -Matt Neemann, Nebraska Dept. of Transportation
Nebraska Tourism Marker Program:
     -Roger Jasnock, Kearney Visitors Bureau
     -Carol Schlegel, Red Willow County Tourism
♦ Nebraska Through British Eyes
     -Alan Wilkinson, Author 

Lunch  11:30 AM to 12:00 PM            

New Agency Update/General Marketing/ Brand Leverage 
12:00 PM to 2:00 PM
Nebraska Tourism Serves, Passport & Marketing Update
     -Erin Wirth, Angela Sears, Jenn Gjerde, Nebraska Tourism Commission
Breakout Sessions 
2:15 PM to 3:30 PM  
♦ Earned Media in Travel
     -Trevor Meers, Editorial Content Director, Meredith Corporation
     -Tim and Lisa Trudell, The Walking Tourists Blog
     -Carson Vaughn, Freelance Writer
♦ Re-creating Authentic Downtown Communities
     -Dan Senftner, CEO Destination Rapid City
♦ Update from New Public Relations Agency
General Session 
4:00 PM to 5:15 PM   
♦ The Richest Man in Town
     -VJ Smith, Life's Great Moments LLC



Catherine Heeg is a tourism, travel and hospitality industry expert with over three decades experience. Her popular workshops and seminars earn rave reviews and drive results that clients can see in their marketing ROI.

She is committed to helping clients quickly learn the best ways to leverage the power of social media and other relevant marketing tactics. An engaging speaker, workshop leader and social media marketing and communications expert, Catherine delivers proven tools that help companies reach their target audience, differentiate themselves from the competition and achieve authentic visibility that translates into winning results.

Catherine designs and delivers customized interactive workshops with big picture ideas and valuable implementation tips.

She takes the mystery out of marketing by providing the step-by-step guidance that helps clients succeed. Catherine enjoys leading webinars and workshops and consulting with clients to help them build their social media buzz.

Social Media Solutions clients can opt to have their social sites built and maintained by a group of tourism professionals. Coaching and customized programs deliver ongoing market intelligence and support with simple tools and techniques that can be implemented immediately. Outcomes are monitored and results are measurable.

Professionals who are serious about taking consistent, winning actions every day to build their business and achieve measurable results love working with Catherine.


Dan Senftner, President and CEO of Destination Rapid City, has been a Downtown Rapid City business owner for 20 years. He served as Vice Chairman of Destination Rapid City since its inception in 2008, and was named President and CEO in 2010. His passion is in the betterment of Rapid City and the Downtown area, and increasing the quality of life for visitors and locals alike.

Senftner has served on many boards with several organizations in Rapid City including Capital Campaign Manager for the new Calvary Lutheran Church, Rapid City Economic Development Partnership, Rapid City Convention and Visitors Bureau, Destination Rapid City, Rapid City Downtown Association, Rapid City Historical Society, the City Task Force for Future Development and the Rapid City Downtown Business Improvement District Board. Senftner also is very involved in the creation and implementation of an updated Downtown Master Plan. He is continually serving as a consultant for many Downtown communities throughout the United States.

George Zimmermann brings more than two decades of experience in tourism destination marketing and research to the Longwoods team and its clients.

He was the Vice President responsible for Travel Michigan at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation from October 2001 until April 2014.  Under his leadership, Travel Michigan and its advertising agency, McCann Detroit, created and launched the award-winning Pure Michigan branding campaign in 2006, a campaign that Forbes ranked among the top ten tourism promotion campaigns worldwide.  Initially a regional campaign, Pure Michigan became Michigan’s first significant national advertising campaign starting in 2009.   During his tenure, the annual tourism promotion budget rose from $5.7 million to $30 million.

In 2012, George was named one of the “Top 25 Extraordinary Minds in Hospitality Sales and Marketing” by the Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI).   In 2011, the National Council of State Tourism Directors named him State Tourism Director of the Year for his work at Travel Michigan.  Prior to joining Travel Michigan, George served as Ohio’s Tourism Director, and he was named State Tourism Director of the Year in 1997. He is the only person to have received this honor twice.

George served on the U.S. Department of Commerce Travel and Tourism Advisory Board, the Board of Directors of the U.S. Travel Association and the Board and Executive Committee of the National Council of State Tourism Directors.  He was elected as Chair of the Council four times.

In 2014, George led the effort to create the National Council of State Tourism Directors Alumni Group and was elected the group’s first chair.  He has consulted with and/or presented to the state tourism offices in Georgia, Louisiana, Maine, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming, as well as convention bureaus in Ashville, North Carolina; Green Bay, Wisconsin; the Poconos and York, Pennsylvania.

Before his work in tourism, George spent more than a decade in all phases of broadcasting, including serving as the Statehouse Bureau Chief for the Ohio Public Radio/Public Television Statehouse Bureau.  He was the editor of the situation comedies “The Jeffersons” and “Good Times” in Los Angeles, and he was the technical director for the two pilots of “Austin City Limits” in Texas.

He is the author of three travel-related books and a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin.

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