CVB Superstars - 6 winners - 2020

Top row, from left: Marie Dalis-Brown, Demp Bradford, Katie Button. Bottom row, from left: Tim Love, Dana Frankel, Chris Cavanaugh

Every year, Explore Asheville recognizes tourism partners who have made standout contributions to the work we do to promote Asheville and Buncombe County as a destination.

This challenging year, we are more grateful than ever for these folks who have truly earned the title of CVB Superstars.

Congratulations to the following individuals honored at the virtual December Holiday Party as our 2020 Explore Asheville CVB Superstars.

Marie Dalis-Brown, McKibbon Hospitality

As presented by Dianna Pierce, Explore Asheville VP of Sales

Marie Dalis-Brown is Market Director of Sales of McKibbon Hospitality. Her firm commitment to support the McKibbon hotels was evidenced by her willingness to assume any task assigned to her in the hotel during the early days of COVID-19. In addition to keeping up with groups rescheduling, Marie worked in the front office to help keep the operations going and the doors open.

Marie worked with the CVB to help craft the Asheville Cares Meet Safe Pledge – a pledge specific to steps being taken by meeting properties to keep everyone safe during the pandemic.

She also took a chance on a new CVB meetings initiative we call “Mug Moments,” a casual 20-minute virtual conversation between a local hotel, the CVB and the meeting planning industry. Although we had no idea how this presentation would be received, Marie agreed to be featured in our first “Mug Moments.”

She knew the presentation could go either way but she still agreed to do it. Marie was incredibly prepared and much of the success of that event is attributed to her and the content and authenticity she brought to the table. Sixty planners attended our first mug moments. We have followed the same format moving forward.

Marie’s team is very responsive to both our requests for help and requests that benefit the larger hotel community in Asheville. McKibbon Properties recently participated in welcoming the Southeast USA Society of Incentive Travel Executives – also known as SITE – by hosting a luncheon for the group at a time when budgets are extremely tight. This is another example of her willingness to be involved as a community partner.

Demp Bradford, Asheville Buncombe Regional Sports Commission.

As presented by Glenn Cox, Explore Asheville VP of Administration

Last March, one of the last three major basketball championships was held here in Asheville, just days before the NCAA officially canceled all remaining tournaments. That was the Southern Conference Basketball Championship, and it was the 8th straight year of Asheville hosting the event.

Over 32,600 fans attended SoCon this year – more than any previous years – and in total, the event generated an estimated economic impact of $6.4 million.

Then the pandemic hit. Demp Bradford and his small but mighty team at the Asheville Buncombe Regional Sports Commission could have easily sat idly by, waiting for the public health crisis to be over and for sporting events to return, but they went into action.

As early as May, they were developing plans for bubble events – before many of us even knew what a “bubble event” was.

Working closely with Buncombe County health officials and the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, Demp developed a plan that made safety a priority and resulted in Asheville being named the host city of the 2020 Camping World Maui Invitational.

Demp’s leadership and tireless persistence put Asheville in the national spotlight, including live telecasts on ESPN and ESPN2, and also demonstrated Asheville’s ability to host a quality sports event designed to keep not just the athletes and coaching staff safe, but our community safe as well.

Katie Button, Katie Button Restaurants

As presented by Dodie Stephens, Explore Asheville Director of Communications

It has been a tough year for our beloved, local restaurants. Despite the immense challenges and hardships that Katie Button has faced with her own businesses here in the pandemic, she stepped-up to play a significant role on behalf of all restaurants, not just locally, but across the nation.

As reported in an October Washington Post article, Katie has tirelessly advocated in support of restaurants nationwide via the Independent Restaurant Coalition – pushing for pandemic relief from federal lawmakers and making the voices of 11 million independent restaurant employees (and 5 million workers up and down the food supply chain) heard.

Pre-COVID, in 2019, Asheville welcomed Chow Chow: An Asheville Culinary Event, under Katie’s leadership, where more than 300 chefs and makers came together to create immersive, shared experiences for visitors and residents.

When the pandemic postponed the 2020 festival, Katie’s guidance opened a deeper layer of visioning work to carry the nonprofit and event into 2021 in a more meaningful, impactful and equitable way.

Her heart, grit, openness and leadership have been an inspiration.

Tim Love, Buncombe County Government

As presented by Kathi Petersen, Explore Asheville Director of Public Information

It’s hard to imagine that we’ve been in the throes of this pandemic for nine months. Locally, from the first few days of the public health emergency, Tim Love has been a steady presence and liaison among public health, city and county staff, education leaders, and Explore Asheville and other members of the business community – convening what we call the Business Response Workgroup, and balancing the public health crisis with our community’s economic crisis.

In the early days of the pandemic, we met daily via conference call. We are now meeting twice a week.

It’s the work of this group that resulted in numerous town halls with various industry leaders, including our lodging partners, attractions, wedding and event planners, and others, to help our local businesses understand how to comply with restrictions brought about by the pandemic.

Tim has also served as our liaison with the Buncombe County Commissioners and public health officials with respect to reviewing our revised marketing plans and considering the challenges of our industry during this public health emergency.

Dana Frankel, City of Asheville

As presented by Pat Kappes, Explore Asheville Director of Community Engagement

Dana Frankel has been an all-around great community collaborator and really helped move the needle on so many initiatives important to our tourism businesses and the community in general.

Most recently, she helped spearhead the Shared Streets and Parklets Initiative enabling downtown businesses to utilize outdoor public space for dining and shopping. This has allowed partners to be able to serve customers despite reduced capacity – and we know that some may not have stayed in business without this initiative.

She also was instrumental in helping Explore Asheville execute on a recent new public health and safety messaging initiative. You may have seen the 3W’s campaign around downtown featuring the illustration of a whimsical bear reminding people to wear masks and safely social distance – they can be found on pole banners, sidewalk decals, posters, parking barricades, and window clings around downtown.

Dana contributed to the campaign’s effectiveness by helping us determine the highly trafficked areas around town that would benefit from visual safety messaging.

We know that there are a lot of people working with Dana at the City of Asheville to make these initiatives happen for our community – we are grateful for all they do. We  especially appreciate having Dana as the feet-on-the-street partner to help make these collaborations successful.

Chris Cavanaugh, Magellan Strategy Group

As presented by Marla Tambellini, Explore Asheville Deputy Director & VP of Marketing

Chris Cavanaugh’s service and support extends well beyond his recent role as Interim Executive of Explore Asheville. Chris is the person who helps us solve issues one small problem at a time. He is one of Explore Asheville’s greatest cheerleaders and profoundly believes in the vision and mission of the organization. More importantly, he cares deeply about this community, the health and well-being of our vast array of tourism businesses and partners and the role our industry has in supporting our local economy.

When Chris was a Vice President at Biltmore, he also served as a Buncombe County TDA board member, then later the Chair. He has spent many hours working on behalf of Explore Asheville, assisting us with projects as extensive and different as Agency searches, focus group research, destination development projects, and economic insights. While we relish his support as a contractor, Chris brings added value with his ongoing guidance and willingness to lift a hand in many ways as a volunteer.

Chris is whip smart. Many have attended partner events where he freely imparts wisdom and learning during his presentations. During his short, 5-month tenure as Interim Executive, Chris worked long hours to move projects forward, clearing the way for a smooth entry for Vic Isley, Explore Asheville’s new President & CEO. What’s more, he chose to forego half his compensation, instead donating it to local organizations dedicated to equity and inclusion and coronavirus recovery.

Chris has great optimism that we will get through this pandemic. His directive as Interim was to focus on what we can do to get through this challenging time, not what we can’t. But, if there is one thing, that he would say today, it would be his ongoing mantra in the here and now and that is “WEAR A DAMN MASK.”


Our thanks & congratulations to these 2020 Explore Asheville CVB Superstar award-winners!