Visit NC Honors Tourism Leaders, Visionaries

ASHEVILLE, N.C. (March 7, 2023) — Visit North Carolina presented its Esse Quam Videri Award to the Catawba Vale Collective in Old Fort for its ongoing success in building a vibrant community, growing economic development and elevating its outdoor bounty in ways that make it welcoming and accessible to all. The award was presented today at the annual Visit NC Tourism Conference, which continues through Wednesday at The Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville.

Also honored at the conference with entry into Visit NC’s longstanding Winners Circle:

The Catawba Vale Collective exemplifies Esse Quam Videri, the state’s motto, which means “To Be Rather Than to Seem,” said Wit Tutttell, executive director of Visit NC, a unit of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina.

“The Collective’s member organizations and individual leaders embody the highest achievements of the tourism industry, which is a mainstay of North Carolina’s economy,” Tuttell said. “The partnership has drawn on Old Fort’s past to strengthen the community with authenticity and foresight while boosting its reputation for outdoor recreation across cultures and abilities. We are inspired by their goals and accomplishments and grateful to them for showcasing North Carolina’s spirit to travelers from around the world.”

The Catawba Vale Collective — whose members include the Black-led People on the Move Old Fort, the Eagle Market Streets Development Corp., Jason McDougal of Camp Grier and the U.S. Forest Service — approaches the mission through business development with an emphasis on outdoor recreation. More than 500 people attend the Collective’s annual Outdoors For All conference, which brings together diverse thought leaders, industry partners, community members and outdoor enthusiasts to explore ways to create a shared, equitable outdoor community. Most recently, the Collective secured funding for 42 miles of new multi-use trails, which are being developed with the U.S. Forest Service.

Previous winners of the Esse Quam Videri Award, established in 2019, include the High Point Market Authority Kinston business leaders Stephen Hill of Mother Earth Brewing and Vivian Howard of Chef & the Farmer; and Bill Carson, co-founder of the Orchard at Altapass in Spruce Pine.

Tuttell also welcomed the new members of tourism’s Winners Circle.

Liz Bittner leads Travel South USA, the oldest and largest regional tourism alliance in the United States. On behalf of Travel South’s 12 state tourism operations, she manages programs and offices in Australia/New Zealand, Benelux, Brazil, Canada, China, France, India and Italy. She is also a premier partner with Brand USA. Her contributions have been recognized with a long list of honors, including the 2019 U.S. Travel Association’s Mercury Award for Best International Marketing as well as the Communicator Award from the Academy of Interactive & Visual Arts. Bittner serves as business manager for the U.S. Civil Rights Trail Marketing Alliance and has held leadership positions with the National Tour Association and American Bus Association. A graduate of Ohio University with a degree in Organizational Communications/Marketing, she lives in Atlanta.

Rolf Blizzard, Managing Director of Turnpike Properties LLC in Kitty Hawk and co-owner of Atlantic Realty of the Outer Banks, is Chair of the North Carolina Travel and Tourism Coalition, which promotes public policies that encourage the growth and development of the tourism industry. He worked in the North Carolina Senate for 10 years serving longtime Senate President Pro Tempore Marc Basnight.  In addition to his role as Coalition Chair, he’s a member of the Economic Development Partnership North Carolina Board of Directors, chairman of the North Carolina Travel and Tourism Board, co-chair of the National Vacation Rental Management Association’s Government Relations Committee and a member of the North Carolina Hospitality Alliance board. He earned a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and a Master’s in Public Administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Chris Cavanagh, Founder and President of Magellan Strategy Group, entered the travel and tourism sector 28 years ago. For more than a decade, he served as vice president of marketing for The Biltmore Company. With Asheville-based Magellan, he consults with destinations of all sizes, both rural and urban; historic, natural and cultural attractions; and other tourism and hospitality clients across the United States and beyond. Cavanagh, who has served as a member and chair of the North Carolina Travel and Tourism Board, is chairman of the Buncombe County Tourism Authority. His honors include the NC Travel Industry Association Tourism Excellence Award and the Southeast Tourism Society Shining Example Award. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree from Vanderbilt University and a Master of Business Administration from Emory University.

The Winners Circle, created in 2004, recognizes significant and continuing contributions to the growth and success of North Carolina's tourism industry. Previous recipients include the late Hugh Morton of Grandfather Mountain, NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty, Jean Beasley of the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue & Rehabilitation Center and Deborah Holt Noel of PBS NC.

Note: Photos of the award recipients will be uploaded to this Google folder by 2 p.m.

About Visit North Carolina:

Visit North Carolina is part of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina. Established in 2014, the EDPNC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation that oversees the state's efforts in business and job recruitment and retention, international trade, and tourism, film and sports development. The mission of Visit North Carolina is to unify and lead the state in developing North Carolina as a major destination for leisure travel, group tours, meetings and conventions, sports events and film production. For more information on North Carolina’s destinations and travel assets, go to



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