Richard Petty. Hugh Morton. And now, our own Marla Tambellini, Explore Asheville’s Deputy Director and VP of Marketing — all recipients of the North Carolina’s highest tourism honor, the Winners Circle Award from Visit NC.

On July 29, 2020, at the regular (virtual) meeting of the Buncombe County TDA, Visit NC Executive Director Wit Tuttell presented Marla with this prestigious award for 2020, which originated in 2004 to recognize people and organizations in the tourism industry that have made significant and continuing contributions to the growth and success of North Carolina’s tourism industry.

Normally presented at the Visit NC 365 Conference on Tourism, the largest gathering of the state’s tourism industry leaders, the COVID pandemic necessitated a virtual presentation.

Marla has been instrumental in developing and growing the Asheville area tourism brand for 25 years, overseeing the destination’s strategic marketing, advertising, social and public relations efforts. Before joining the CVB in 1995, Marla helped launch an in-house public relations department at Biltmore, the most popular historic site in America and a North Carolina icon. Prior to that, Marla worked as a news reporter and producer.

Through the years, Marla has served as a voice and strategist to develop tourism in Western North Carolina, playing an integral part in the Asheville area’s tourism success story. She has led significant website, branding, PR and advertising efforts and is highly respected across the state – indeed the nation! – as a leader and tourism expert. Marla and the team she leads are often recognized for being on the cutting edge of ever-changing marketing trends, technology, and utilizing data-driven research to direct marketing efforts. This has resulted in every dollar being spent on advertising generating $43 in spending at local Asheville area businesses.

Marla is the driving force behind the development of Asheville as an internationally recognized tourism destination. Travel + Leisure designated Asheville as one of the “50 Best Places to Travel in 2020” – one of just three domestic destinations, among dozens of accolades earned annually. During Marla’s tenure, visitor spending has grown to exceed $2 billion a year, providing jobs for 18,000 residents of Buncombe County, and generating $200 million in state and local taxes.

Marla has served in leadership roles with the Public Relations Society of America, the Society of American Travel Writers, the Southeast Tourism Society of America, and various state tourism organizations and local boards. She has presented at City Nation Place, U.S. Travel’s ESTO conference, Destinations International’s CMO Summit, the Southeast Tourism Symposium and several state tourism conferences.

Marla holds a BA in Journalism from The Ohio State University. She considers herself a travel marketing pro, research-lover, occasional speaker, longtime Ashevillian and is “constantly curious.”

Congratulations, Marla!

NC Winners Circle Award Winners


John Harris — Kitty Hawk Kites
Scott Mason — WRAL
Marla Tambellini — Explore Asheville


Mary Baggett Martin — Blockade Runner
Fussell Family — Duplin Winery


Harris Prevost — Grandfather Mountain
Dr. Dana Clark — Appalachian State University
Chuck Hobgood — N.C. Amateur Sports
Tanya Jones — Surry Arts Council


Jean Beasley — Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue & Rehabilitation Center
Jim Early — N.C. Barbecue Society
A.C. Hall — Atlantis Lodge


Alice Aumen — Catalochee Ranch
Steve Woody — Great Smoky Mountains National Park Service
Houck Medford — Blue Ridge Parkway National Park Service
Mickey Gregory — Lumberton CVB


Bill Russ — Photographer
Reg Jones — U.S. Golf Association
Tom Pashley — Pinehurst Resort


Richard Petty — Richard Petty Racing
Horace Holden — Nantahala Outdoor Center
Payson and Aurelia Kennedy — Nantahala Outdoor Center
Ron Kimble — Charlotte Deputy City Manager


Bill Vassar — EUE Screen Gems Studio
Mikie Wall — Wilmington and Beaches CVB
Lynn Minges — N.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association


Jim Hobbs — N.C. Hospitality Alliance
Mary Jaeger-Gale — Chimney Rock State Park
Charles Shelton — Shelton Vineyards
Richard Childress — Richard Childress Racing


Dr. Larry Wheeler — N.C. Museum of Art
Bill Cecil Jr. — Biltmore
Gary Everhardt — National Park Service & Blue Ridge Parkway


Capt. Dave Scheu — Battleship N.C.
Spencer Robbins — Tweetsie Railroad and others
Bill Hensley — N.C. Division of Tourism and others


John & Fay Cooper — Mast General Store
Reyn Bowman — Durham CVB
Betty & David Huskins — Smoky Mtn. Host/Advantage West
Dr. Larry Gustke — N.C. State University


Frank Capra Jr. — Screen Gems Studio
Bob McCoy — Winston-Salem CVB
Grady & Reba Moretz — Appalachian Ski Mountain
Todd Morse — Chimney Rock
Bruton Smith — Lowe’s (Charlotte) Motorspeedway


Judith Grizzel — Cape Fear Coast CVB
Dave Heinl — Greater Raleigh CVB
Peggy Kirk Bell — Mid-Pines & Pine Needles


Doug Stafford — Griffin Stafford, LLC / Charlotte CVB/Speedway
Bernie Mann — Our State Magazine
Phil Kirk — NCCBI


Craig Madison — Grove Park Inn
Steve Miller — Biltmore
Jack Goldstein — Carteret County


Humpy Wheeler — Lowe’s Motorspeedway
Jerry Richardson — Carolina Panthers
Hugh Morton — Grandfather Mountain