For more than two decades, the William A.V. Cecil Tourism Leadership Award has honored those who have made a significant contribution to the tourism sector in Asheville and Buncombe County and who have provided exceptional leadership in making the community a special place to live and visit.

Created in 1999 as a tribute to the late William Amherst Vanderbilt Cecil, owner of the Biltmore Estate and a champion of its preservation and success, the award honors the leadership, creativity and commitment of the people who have made it their mission to help guide the tourism industry in Buncombe County.

The 2020 award was presented to Asheville Independent Restaurant Association, better known as AIR, at the virtual Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority Annual Meeting on October 7 by Chris Cavanaugh, Interim Executive of Explore Asheville.

In making the presentation, Cavanaugh described AIR as “an organization and, indeed, an entire community of passionate, dedicated people who have shaped Asheville’s reputation as a unique culinary destination. Independent restaurants are a huge part of the appeal of Asheville and Buncombe County, and they are part of an ecosystem that includes local farms and many different kinds of makers.”

Accepting the award with AIR Executive Director Jane Anderson were Michel Baudouin, of Bouchon and Rendezvous, and Eric Scheffer, of Vinnie’s Neighborhood Italian and Jettie Rae’s Oyster House, two of the original four chef-owners who started the membership organization in 2003.

>> VIEW A RECORDING OF THE PRESENTATION HERE (starts at 00:22:44 and runs to 00:31:08).

Recipients of the William A.V. Cecil Award

2020: AIR – Asheville Independent Restaurant Association

2019: Dick Trammel | Tourism pioneer; helped lay the foundation for the growth of the visitor economy

2018: John Ellis | Diana Wortham Theater, retired executive director

2016: Gary Everhardt | Blue Ridge Parkway, former Superintendent

2015: Karen Cragnolin | River Link

2014: Pat Whalen | Public Interest Projects

2013: Becky Anderson | Former HandMade in America, Economic Developer, Blue Ridge Parkway 75th Chair

2012: Steve Hill | Thomas Wolfe Memorial

2011: Oscar Wong | Microbrew pioneer, Highland Brewing

2010:  Mark Rosenstein | Early advocate of farm-table, Marketplace Restaurant

2009: Senator Martin Nesbitt | NC Senate & sponsor of room tax bill

2008: Lloyd & Leone Kirk | Longtime lodging advocates, Forest Manor Inn

2007: Todd Morse | Chimney Rock Park

2006: Hugh Morton | Grandfather Mountain (posthumously)

2005: John Cram | Blue Spiral & downtown visionary

2004: Ralph Young | Young Transportation

2003: Mary Jaeger Gale | Chimney Rock Park

2002: Craig Madison | Alpha Group & Grove Park Inn

2001: Steve Miller | Biltmore Estate

2000: John Winkenwerder | Hampton Inns

1999: Bobbie Cannon | Mountain Meadows Publications