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Class of 2019 includes representatives of hotel, restaurant, beverage, casino and ski industries as well as the National Parks Service, Expedia and academia, attractions and destinations

The Colorado Tourism Office (CTO) today announced the latest participants for the Colorado Tourism Leadership Journey, a tuition-based executive training program aimed at building the bench strength of the state’s tourism industry. This year’s participants represent destinations across the state and tourism settings as diverse as Red Robin International, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Train, Rocky Mountain National Park and Johnson and Wales University.

The 22 members of the Class of 2019 are set to begin their yearlong experience at the Colorado Governor’s Tourism Conference Oct. 29 – Oct. 31 in Vail, as participants of the inaugural 2018 class take the stage to graduate.

“The tourism industry is our state’s second largest employer, and its future success depends in a very real way on access to talent,” said CTO Director Cathy Ritter. “By equipping tourism leaders and up-and-comers with skills to inspire others, create change and overcome challenges, we are building a competitive edge for a key Colorado industry.”

One of a kind in the U.S., the program is aimed at managers seeking to grow as effective leaders in a tourism setting. For employers, it is a cost-effective means for developing, rewarding and retaining top talent. Tuition of $2,500 covers all educational expenses, including attendance at two successive Governor’s Tourism Conferences, with limited scholarships available.

To facilitate the program, CTO contracts with Keystone Policy Center, a public policy group with offices in Keystone, Denver and Washington, D.C. With guidance from the CTO’s Leadership Committee, Keystone designs a curriculum that encompasses facilitated sessions, required readings, one-on-one mentoring, action learning projects and experiential learning opportunities in five different Colorado locations.

During the course of their leadership journey, members of the inaugural class met with Mayors Michael Hancock of Denver, John Suthers of Colorado Springs, and P.T. Woods of Salida. They learned from innovators as diverse as travel writer Rick Steves, historic preservationist Dana Crawford of Denver, whitewater park developer Jed Selby of Buena Vista and Top Chef contender Brother Luck of Colorado Springs. They met with leaders of the Broadmoor, the U.S. Olympic Training Center and the U.S. Air Force Academy and tested their limits with a ropes course and wheelchair basketball.

“This program is an important investment in the future of our industry and is designed to grow tourism industry talent into successful leaders,” said Jesse True, Senior Vice President of Copper Mountain Resort, member of the Colorado Tourism Board and chair of the CTO’s Leadership Committee. “We were again impressed this year by the capability and diversity of program applicants seeking to continue their own professional growth and the advancement of the Colorado tourism industry.”

Members of the Colorado Tourism Leadership Journey Class of 2019 are as follows:

  • Donna Basham, Sales Manager, Royal Gorge Bridge & Park, Cañon City
  • Pam Denahy, Director of Tourism, City of La Junta
  • Amy Ewing, Talent Acquisition Partner, Red Robin International, Greenwood Village
  • Kurtis Grimes, Marketing Manager, Ameristar Casino Black Hawk
  • Tony Gurzick, Manager, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Denver
  • John Hannon, Commercial Services, Alternative Transportation, and Visitor Use Management, National Park Service – Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park
  • Haley Houlihan, Assistant Marketing Director, Powder Monarch, Salida
  • Kelly Kirkpatrick, Executive Director, Mesa Verde Country Visitor Information Bureau, Cortez
  • Cy Michaels, Owner, La Quinta, Trinidad
  • Marlene Neidert, Tourism Promotion Project Manager, Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association
  • Kari Obernesser, Area Manager, Expedia Group, Denver
  • Chelsy Offutt, Director of Communications, Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau
  • Heidi Pankow, Director, Ouray Tourism Office
  • Christian Robbins, Director of Marketing, Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, Durango
  • Krystal Ryan, Lodging Group Manager, Copper Mountain Resort, Copper Mountain
  • Cassidee Shull, Executive Director, Colorado Association for Viticulture and Enology and Colorado Winefest, Palisade
  • Laura Soard, Marketing Director, Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association
  • Kimberly Tranter, Associate Professor, Johnson and Wales University – College of Hospitality Management, Denver
  • Tasha Wilson, Visitor Center Manager, Town of Frisco
  • CTO Participant: Elizabeth O’Rear, Manager of Destination Development, Colorado Tourism Office, Denver


Candidates and employers can learn more about applying for the tuition-based program at




About the Colorado Tourism Office: The Colorado Tourism Office (CTO) is a division of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade. The CTO’s mission is to generate traveler spending by promotion of Colorado as a four-season, four-corner, world-class travel destination and development of compelling, sustainable travel experiences. In 2017, Colorado travelers spent $20.9 billion, generating $1.28 billion in local and state revenues, reducing the tax burden for every Coloradan by $228. Tourism is the state’s second largest employer, directly supporting 171,000 jobs. For more information, please visit