Travel Nevada recognizes top rural tourism boosters at statewide conference

LAUGHLIN, Nev. — The Nevada Division of Tourism (Travel Nevada) honored rural Nevada’s top tourism supporters at the annual VolunTourism Awards ceremony on Thursday at the Aquarius Casino Resort. The awards were part of Travel Nevada’s yearly Rural Roundup tourism conference, which focuses on tourism efforts in rural Nevada.

“We’ve seen visitation to rural Nevada increase in recent years; for example, in 2015, we saw a 7.2 percent jump in visitation over 2014,” Claudia Vecchio, Nevada Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs director, said. “The volunteers and tourism professionals in rural Nevada make these numbers happen, and we are so grateful for their efforts. Travel Nevada is pleased to recognize these efforts at this year’s VolunTourism awards.”

Visitation to rural Nevada — all counties in Nevada not including Clark and Washoe counties — was 1.22 million in 2015, up from 1.14 million in 2014, according to TNS’ TravelsAmerica data . Travel spending in rural Nevada is around $2.38 million.

Travel Nevada presented six VolunTourism awards, one in each of Nevada’s six tourism territories, as well as two statewide awards and an international award. A Nevada high school senior also was awarded the $1,000 June Stannard Rural Tourism Memorial Scholarship.

VolunTourism award recipients:

Cowboy Country
Paula Tomera, executive director of the Lander County Convention & Tourism Authority, has been promoting tourism throughout Cowboy Country and the state of Nevada for several years. She has worked various Cowboy Country consumer shows to promote the area and has been instrumental in the continued success of the World Human Powered Speed Challenge and other Battle Mountain events.

Nevada’s Indian Territory
Chris Gibbons, a member of Nevada’s Indian Territory for nine years, is receiving the VolunTourism Award for her work to further the territory through coordination of the organization’s many projects. She is the person behind the scenes who makes sure that all projects are moving along and have all the pieces required for success. She has spent many hours working with our professional photographer to make sure that the territory has photos of all of Nevada’s Indian Territory. The first-ever Indian Territory photo library boasts more than 25,000 photos.

Las Vegas Territory
Annette “Sunny” Barkley is a longstanding member of Las Vegas Territory, serving on the group’s board as treasurer for several years. While Barkley has her own destination management company, ASAP Las Vegas, she also demonstrates dedication to Las Vegas Territory, fostering a spirit of teamwork and advocacy with the fellow board members to serve the needs of a growing organization.

Nevada Silver Trails
The Beatty Cowboys, Floozies & Petticoats group best exemplifies the spirit of fun at the heart of tourism. Members of this volunteer organization, dressed in Old West garb, for years have delighted and entertained visitors to Beatty with mock gunfights and shows. While they enthrall guests with their performances, the Beatty Cowboys, Floozies & Petticoats also provide people with valuable tourism and historical information about their town.

Pony Express Territory
Patsy Waits has been described as a Renaissance woman, working and volunteering in the travel industry as well as other fields. Currently serving as a Lander County commissioner, Waits is a longtime volunteer for Pony Express Territory, and was key in developing nearly 100 miles of bike trails in the Austin/Kingston area as well as working on other tourism projects for the organization.

Reno-Tahoe Territory
The Greater Genoa Business Association is being recognized for the outstanding planning and execution of the 2015 Rural Roundup afternoon of discovery in historic Genoa. This group produced a playful video to create buzz and excitement in advance of the event and worked tirelessly on every detail to ensure that attendees experienced the history and charm of this proud community.

Statewide Excellence in Tourism
Award-winning journalist David Toll, author of “The Complete Nevada Traveler,” has been a longtime chronicler of Nevada places and people. A champion of the Silver State, he is an active member of many of the state’s tourism territories. Currently, he is the force behind the Nevada Travel Network website, where he has covered everything from ghost towns to special events, bringing the stories of Nevada to the wider world.

Statewide Excellence in Grants
Mark Bassett of the White Pine Historic Railroad Foundation has mastered the art of grant writing, to the great benefit of the historical Nevada Northern Railway in Ely. His skill in identifying and securing grant funds to promote and preserve the Nevada Northern has helped to ensure that this treasured piece of Silver State history continues to delight and educate visitors and residents alike.

Nevada Excellence in Tourism International Award
Delta Air Lines South Korea and its sales manager, Sam Park, have been strong partners of Travel Nevada. Delta has offered Nevada numerous promotional activities in Korea ever since it launched the nonstop flights between Seoul and Seattle in June 2014. Park has brought influential tour operators and key members of the media to Nevada for familiarization trips that have showcased the entire state — north and south, rural and urban, in an effort to promote Nevada as one of major destinations in conjunction with the Delta flight from Seoul to Seattle.

June Stannard Scholarship recipient
Diego Labandera, a senior at Valley High School in Las Vegas, will receive this year’s June Stannard Scholarship, which assists a Nevada high school senior planning to pursue a career in hospitality or travel, or a tourism-related degree. Labandera plans to enter the hospitality field, and impressed judges with his volunteer work at the Lied Discovery Children’s Museum in Las Vegas and other groups.

EDITORS: For images of VolunTourism award winners, see