Atlanta, GA – Today Governor Brian P. Kemp announced 20 appointments to the Georgia Tourism Foundation. Governor Kemp highlighted the important role of the Georgia Tourism Foundation Board of Directors during his remarks Wednesday at the 2021 Georgia Governor’s Tourism Conference presented by Explore Georgia, the tourism division of the Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD).
“I’m excited to announce these leaders from various segments of Georgia’s tourism industry who will be focused on directing the development of innovative and entrepreneurial strategies designed to improve Georgia’s position as a destination for travel,” said Governor Kemp. “Under the leadership of Deputy Commissioner for Tourism Mark Jaronski, this Board of Directors will work as a team with the Georgia Department of Economic Development and our Explore Georgia state tourism office to increase Georgia’s competitiveness and grow the tourism industry back stronger than ever.”
Joseph Akers serves as RaceTrac’s Chief Legal Officer and Secretary, overseeing the company’s Legal, Risk Management, Environmental, Internal Audit, and Compliance functions. Akers joined RaceTrac in 2005, and before becoming General Counsel in 2012, spent seven years working to protect the company when litigated. He earned a bachelor’s degree in political economy from Tulane University in New Orleans in 1994 and a J.D. from the University of Georgia in 1997. Before joining RaceTrac, he was an associate at the Miami-based firm of Greenberg Traurig. In addition to his work at RaceTrac, Akers is active in several civic and legal organizations. He has been married to his wife Nancy since 2002, and they have two children.
Jake Carter is the Owner and Operator of Southern Belle Farms. Carter graduated from the University of Georgia in 2003 with a degree in business management. After graduation, he returned to the family farm in McDonough and began transforming the dairy operation into the 330-acre agritourism destination that it is today. Carter also serves on the Board of Directors at Snapping Shoals EMC. In 2019, Governor Brian Kemp appointed Carter to serve as the Tenth Congressional District representative on the Board of Economic Development. He and his wife, Jennifer, are Henry County natives and have three children. They are members of Bethany Baptist Church and reside in McDonough.
Paul Cramer is president & CEO of The Classic Center, a 350,000 square-foot meeting and convention facility, with a 2,000+-seat performing arts theatre, 2,000-seat arena, and 22,000 square foot outdoor covered pavilion, with a removable ice rink located in Athens, Georgia. He has served in this role for over 26 years. Cramer began his career in Rochester, New York, working his way from banquet and concessions manager in 1986 to the assistant executive director by 1992. Cramer runs a successful workforce development program, which aids those seeking a career in hospitality, including the non-profit organization Bread for Life. He also serves on the Athens Technical College Foundation Board, the Athens Community Career Academy Board, and the Clarke County School District CTAE Board. During his tenure at The Classic Center, Cramer has developed and oversees The Classic Center Cultural Foundation, which provides scholarships for the performing, visual, and culinary arts, as well as for entertainment, hospitality, sports, and event management education programs, while supporting these initiatives in the Athens community. In 2018, he initiated the partnership between Piedmont College, The Classic Center, and The Classic Center Cultural Foundation to create and launch the Hospitality & Tourism Management degree program within the Harry W. Walker School of Business at Piedmont College. In 2015, Facilities and Destinations Magazine recognized Cramer as an Elite Convention Center Executive. Under his leadership, The Center has remained an award-winning facility. The most recent awards include 10x ConventionSouth Readers’ Choice Award, the 2020 Stella Award, and the 2021 GBAC STAR Facility Certification. He and his wife Stacey reside in Athens and have two adult children.
Liz Crisafi is the Global Vice President of Campaign Marketing at IHG Hotels and Resorts, one of the world’s leading hotel companies. She is responsible for marketing their 17 global brands and delivering commercial, loyalty, and partnership campaigns to ensure IHG supports the ever-changing needs of their guests and owners and provides a world-class experience across their 5,900+ hotels worldwide. Crisafi has more than 20 years of in-depth global marketing experience and previously held several senior marketing positions at Kimberly-Clark, Ogilvy & Mather, Discovery Communications, and Eastman Kodak. Crisafi is on the Advisory Board of Brand Innovators and was most recently recognized in 2017, 2018 & 2019 in the “Top 100 Women to Watch in Brand Marketing”. She was also recently featured by Dress for Success Atlanta for their “2021 Women of Power.” Liz holds a Bachelor of Science in Communications and Broadcasting from Georgia Southern University.
Brian Davis is Georgia Aquarium’s president and CEO. Davis has more than 25 years of experience in senior leadership roles within zoological and educational institutions. Davis first joined the Georgia Aquarium team before its founding in 2003 as the Director of Education, later served as the Aquarium’s Vice President of Education and then most recently as Executive Vice President of Operations. Prior to his tenure at Georgia Aquarium, he served as president and CEO of the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk, where he oversaw the enhancement of the Aquarium’s footprint. Davis has also served in teaching and administrative roles in Cobb County’s school system and developed education programs at New York Aquarium and Zoo Atlanta. He has served as an Adjunct Professor for Schools of Education at Georgia State University and Mercer University. He has served on the Boards of Directors for Centennial Place Elementary School, Norwalk Chamber of Commerce, Open Door Shelter, and NorwalkACTS. He currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). He is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Davis graduated from Rutgers University in 1992 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Science, later earning both a master’s in education and his Ph.D. in Secondary Science Education at Georgia State University.
Cynde Dickey is the chief financial officer for Dickey Farms, Inc, a 3,000+ acre peach and timberland farm family-owned since 1897. Since 2016, she has served as a board member on the Georgia Agribusiness Council. Dickey is the Grants Committee chairman for the Community Foundation of Central Georgia, the treasurer for Keep Roberta/Crawford Beautiful, and the treasurer of the Roberta/Crawford County Chamber of Commerce. In addition to her civic engagement, Dickey is a member of the 1990 Class of Leadership Georgia and a member of the Crawford County Farm Bureau. She graduated from the University of Georgia with a bachelor’s in accounting in 1977. She and her husband Robert Dickey, a State Representative, have two adult children and are active members of Musella Baptist Church.
David Friederich is the president of North Georgia’s award-winning Barnsley Resort. Friederich oversees all operations of the 3,000-acre estate, including meetings, weddings, outdoor activities, events, restaurants and catering, 150 guest rooms and suites at the cottages and new Inn, and overall guest satisfaction. A seasoned leader and innovator in the hospitality field, Friederich previously serves as Managing Director of The Whitley in Buckhead, formerly The Ritz-Carlton. Before that, Friederich served as the Corporate Vice President of Operations and Regional Manager of The Kessler Collection and General Manager of Grand Bohemian Hotel Orlando – named among Condé Nast Traveler’s ‘Top Hotels in Florida.’ Friederich has over 30 years of management experience in the hospitality industry, including six years as general manager of The Cloister Hotel at Sea Island and various senior leadership roles with Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts.
Steve Hallowell is the chief marketing officer at Herschend Family Entertainment, including properties such as Callaway Gardens and Resort, Stone Mountain Park, and Wild Adventures. Prior to joining Herschend, Hallowell was a marketing and sales executive for Eastman Kodak Co. for more than 25 years. He graduated from Rutgers University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics and marketing. In 2016, Governor Nathan Deal first appointed Hallowell to serve as a member of the Georgia Tourism Foundation.
Jay Markwalter serves as Executive Director of the Georgia Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus (GACVB), the unified voice, education, and leadership development resource for our state’s destination marketing organizations. Prior to becoming the statewide organization’s director in 2018, Markwalter served as Director of Marketing Communications and Director of Sales with the Augusta CVB. From 2004 to 2014, he led the tourism-based economic development efforts in Atlanta-metro and the north Georgia mountains as the tourism director for Lawrenceville and Dahlonega-Lumpkin County. Markwalter has served on the 13-state Southeast Tourism Society Board of Directors and represents Georgia as a member of Destinations International and the U.S. Travel Association. He is a graduate of the Leadership Georgia Class of 2013 and was appointed to the Georgia Tourism Foundation by Governor Nathan Deal. A native of Savannah, Markwalter received his BBA in Marketing from the University of Georgia and has his Travel Marketing Professional (TMP) designation from the Southeast Tourism Society. Markwalter lives in Augusta with his wife, Sumner, and their two sons, Joe and Hart.
Mark O’Brien is president and CEO of LakePoint Sports, the nation’s premier youth travel sports destination. The sprawling 1,300-acre campus features eight Major League-sized baseball fields, three multi-use fields for soccer, lacrosse, and football, a 170,000-square-foot Indoor Pavilion with 12 basketball courts that convert to 24 volleyball courts. He has more than two decades of executive leadership for some of the most globally recognizable brands, including Mizuno USA and Mizuno Canada, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, The Original Honey Baked Ham Company, Johnsonville Sausage, and Miller Brewing Company (now MillerCoors).
After graduating from St. Norbert College, where he played on the baseball team, he went on to earn his master’s in sports management from Georgia Southern University. O’Brien boasts a diverse array of experience in the sports industry, including several years in minor league baseball that culminated in a role as general manager. He also worked in sports marketing and branding for the NBA’s Houston Rockets, assisting with the franchise’s brand partnerships. During his time with GMR Marketing, his work focused on customer engagement and experiential marketing for one of the top global sports entertainment and experiential marketing agencies.
Atul Patel is the asset manager at Asha Management and has served in this role since 1999. Patel has also served as General Contractor for the Real Estate Development Group, building his first new construction project in Locust Grove, Ga., in 2001. During his tenure with Asha Management, Patel has overseen numerous multi-million dollar new construction and renovation projects, including the NexGen Red Roof Inn and LaQuinta Inn & Suites in Locust Grove. He served on the Franchise Advisory Council for Red Roof from 2005 thru 2010 and was elected to serve on the AAHOA Board of Directors as the North Georgia Regional Director in 2010. Patel holds a Certified Hotel Operator (CHO) designation from AAHOA and is a Lifetime Member. In 2013 he was appointed by Governor Nathan Deal to serve as a member of the Georgia Tourism Foundation, and in April 2014, he was appointed to serve a three-year term on the La Quinta Brand Council.
Kal Patel is president and CEO of Image Hotels, Inc., which owns and operates multiple hotels throughout the Southeast and is a Starwood, Hilton, IHG, and Marriott brands licensee. Patel began his career at Merril Lynch, learning finance and investments, which he was later able to apply this knowledge to the lodging business. Patel’s family immigrated to the United States in 1979. He graduated from Savannah State University in 2001 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
Patel is heavily involved in AH&LA, AAHOA, Savannah Chamber of Commerce, Georgia Hospitality and Travel Association, and participation in national events and conferences. He was the Young Professional Hotelier serving as a Board of Directors for AAHOA. Patel has previously served as Board of Director for the Savannah CVB and the Tourism and Leadership Council. He has received several awards and recognitions for lodging accomplishments from industry leaders, franchisors, and municipalities.
William Pate serves as president of Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau (ACVB), where he oversees maintaining tourism as one of the city’s top economic drivers. Before joining ACVB, Pate served as Career Sports & Entertainment president, a national sports marketing and representation firm. He is the former chief marketing officer of BellSouth, one of the world’s largest communications companies. Prior to joining BellSouth, Pate supervised domestic and international advertising and communications at MCI during the telecom ad wars of the 1990s. In 2020, American Marketing Association’s (AMA) Atlanta chapter awarded him its lifetime achievement award. Atlanta Business League named him its 2019 Herman J. Russell CEO of the Year; Atlanta Magazine recognized him as one of the most influential leaders in Atlanta. Georgia Trend magazine included him on its list of 2019 Notable Georgians. Atlanta Business Chronicle honored Pate multiple times as one of Atlanta’s 50 most admired CEOs and named him to its 100 most influential Atlantans list every year since 2009. AMA’s Atlanta chapter also selected him as the corporate marketer of the year in 2010. A prominent leader in the nation’s hospitality industry, Pate serves on the U.S. Travel Association and Destinations International board of directors. Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International honored him as one of the top 25 most extraordinary minds in sales and marketing. He received the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association award of appreciation for his commitment to diversity and inclusion within the travel industry. Pate’s involvement in Atlanta’s sports industry includes serving on the boards of the Atlanta Sports Council, Celebration Bowl, Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, and Chick-fil-A College Football Hall of Fame. He served as vice president of the Atlanta Football Host Committee, was a board member for the Atlanta Super Bowl Host Committee for Super Bowl LIII in 2019, and vice-chairman of the Atlanta Basketball Host Committee. Atlanta Business Chronicle named him one of Georgia’s 30 most influential sports business figures of 2020. Pate is very active in the Atlanta community, serving on the board of directors for Central Atlanta Progress, Children’s Museum of Atlanta, First Tee Atlanta, Jack and Jill Late Stage Cancer Foundation, Metro Atlanta Chamber, and Woodruff Arts Center. He is also on the Board of Councilors of The Carter Center and the industry advisory board for Georgia State University’s Cecil B. Day School of Hospitality Administration.
Marisa Simpson is the Director of Legislative and Governmental Affairs at Atlanta Gas Light (Southern Company Gas). Simpson was previously the Director of Community Relations and Economic Development for AGL Resources Southern Operations. Simpson is a former staffer for U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss. He serves as a board member for Camp Sunshine and is an active volunteer with the American Diabetes Association. Simpson has previously served as a trustee for the Leadership Georgia Foundation, a board member for the Atlanta Touchdown Club, and Georgia Allies. In 2016, Governor Nathan Deal appointed him to the Board of Economic Development and, in 2017, to the Georgia Tourism Foundation, where he serves as chairman. Simpson earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Georgia, where he played football.
Dave Snyder owns and operates Halyards Catering, Hook & Knife Charters, and Halyards Restaurant Group, comprised of Tramici, Halyards Restaurant, and La Plancha. His restaurants perennially ranked the island and region’s most popular, Halyards and Tramici were named 2014 Businesses of the Year by the Brunswick and Golden Isles Chamber of Commerce. In 2014, Dave was selected to serve on the Board of Directors for the Georgia Restaurant Association. Synder offers monthly cooking classes where he is able to draw on his relationships with local fishermen and farmers; he demonstrates to eager guests that the best ingredients make a tremendous difference in food quality, the sustainability of the environment, and the financial strength of the local economy. He serves on the Advisory Panel for Snapper/Grouper Species for the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council. He has worked with the South Atlantic Fishermen’s Association to improve the sustainability and health of the South Atlantic, the availability of local fish, and the financial future and heritage of the fishing industry. Deeply devoted to community service, Snyder serves on the Board of Directors for the Chamber of Commerce, Coastal Symphony of Georgia, The Boys and Girls Club of Southeast Georgia, and Hospice of the Golden Isles. Snyder is a founding board member of the St. Simons Food & Spirits Festival, benefiting Hospice of the Golden Isles. He also serves on the Culinary Board for the College of Coastal Georgia.
Ron Stephens represents Georgia’s 164th District in the Georgia House of Representatives. Stephens is the Chairman of the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee.
Mathews Swift received his bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Georgia in 1969 and his J.D. from Walter F. George School of Law in 1972. He practiced real estate law before becoming president & COO of the W.C. Bradley Co. – Real Estate Division in 1986. During his 32 years as president of the Real Estate Division, Swift developed multiple projects ranging from a 600-acre upscale golf course community; a 500-acre suburban mixed-use development, a 200-acre suburban office park; a 100-acre industrial park, and numerous residential subdivisions, etc. Over the past 20 years, he has primarily focused on the redevelopment of downtown Columbus. Swift’s marquee project was the Eagle & Phenix Mill – a mixed-use development of converting a 1,000,000 square foot 1800’s textile mill into riverfront high rise condominiums, apartments, retail, restaurants, office, and specialty uses. As part of this riverfront development, Swift was an integral part of the Columbus Whitewater initiative – a 30-million-dollar project involving the removal of two hydroelectric dams and the restoration of 2.5 miles of Chattahoochee River into what has been labeled as the world’s longest urban whitewater experience. In 2019, Governor Brian Kemp appointed Swift to serve on the Board of Economic Development.
Bruce Thompson represents Georgia’s 14th District in the Georgia State Senate. Thompson is the Chairman of the Senate Economic Development and Tourism Committee.
Scott Tigchelaar is the President of Senoia Enterprises, Inc, the company responsible for the redevelopment of historic Senoia, and President of Nic & Norman’s Inc, a restaurant located in Senoia. Tigchelaar is the former President of Riverwood Studios Inc, operating as Raleigh Studios- Atlanta, which has now been acquired by AMC Studios, where AMC’s hit series “The Walking Dead” was filmed. He serves on the Board of Directors for Explore Newnan-Coweta and is passionate about expanding the tourism industry in Coweta County. He is currently working with Explore Newnan-Coweta, Inc to develop a trolley system that would connect Newnan, Senoia, Trilith Studios in Fayetteville, and the Bouckaert Farm on the Chattahoochee River in South Fulton. Tigchelaar has created significant economic opportunities for Georgia at the intersection of film and tourism. In 2014, Governor Nathan Deal appointed Tigchelaar to serve as a member of the Georgia Tourism Foundation.
Allan Vella is president and CEO of the Fox Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia, a position he has held since June 2006. A graduate of the University of Iowa, he holds a bachelor’s in liberal arts and arts management. Vella has worked professionally in the Facility Management field since 1986, managing theatres, arenas, amphitheaters, and exhibition facilities. His experience spans a wide range of events, including NCAA Tournaments, MLB, NHL, Ballet, Corporate Events, Concerts, Broadway, and Presidential visits, to name just a few. Under Vella’s direction, the Fox Theatre has been consistently ranked in the top three non-residency theatres in North America for gross ticket sales by industry trade magazines, Pollstar, Billboard, and Venues Today. In addition, the Fox Theatre was declared a Top Stop of the Decade by Venues Today and the #1 non-residency venue worldwide for the decade by Billboard Magazine. The historic Fox Theatre has managed to remain cutting edge as well. It holds numerous titles for Social Media presence for 2000-5000 seat venues in North America as calculated in Venues Today’s Social Media Power 100. Before joining the Fox Theatre, Vella worked for SMG, the world’s largest facility management company. Vella is a member of the International Association of Venue Managers and Rotary International, a graduate of IAVM’s Venue Management School, and a board member of the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau as well as Variety of Georgia, a children’s charity. He and his wife Nicole have three children and reside in Decatur, Georgia.