You’d be hard-pressed to find a better champion of Amarillo than Hope Stokes, director of brand management for the Amarillo Convention & Visitor Council. Born and raised in the Texas Panhandle city, she graduated from nearby West Texas A&M University and her first job in the tourism industry was as an intern at the council. Stokes shared with us her love of her hometown.

What is your favorite thing about marketing Amarillo?

My favorite part about marketing Amarillo is that I have the opportunity to share my passion for Amarillo with the world. Amarilloans have this deep connection with our city that I’ve never seen anywhere else. Amarillo is now an oasis on the high plains, but it wasn’t always. Early settlers had to accept that they had little to no control over their environment and formed a partnership with the land. When things got rough, they found comfort in their faith and community, but they never gave up on the land. That camaraderie between the land and the people is the base of our heritage and has translated into a deep respect for our area and community that is ingrained in all Amarilloans. The passion we have for our city is almost palpable, and once people see it, they want to get a taste.

What is your favorite part of your job? 

Hands down it’s simply sharing Amarillo with others. I grew up here, so I know this city like the back of my hand. That gives me the opportunity to showcase Amarillo in a way that fits everyone’s interests. I was guilty of thinking, “There’s nothing to do in Amarillo,” in my younger years, and I couldn’t have been more wrong. I live for the opportunity to either change the way people think about Amarillo or introduce them to everything Amarillo has to offer.

What is your favorite event in Amarillo? 

My favorite event in Amarillo is the Good Times Celebration Barbecue Cook-Off. It’s my favorite event because 100 cooking teams provide tons of food, and with a typical attendance of over 6,000, you get to see people from all over Amarillo come together to have drinks and enjoy some of the best barbecue in the city

Originally from Ontario, Heather Odendaal got her start in event planning early, serving as her high school’s head of social events. She ended up on the West Coast, courtesy of her studies at the University of British Columbia, and launched her career in Whistler, working for the resort in marketing and events. Today, she’s CEO of Bluebird Strategy, a boutique event planning firm, and CEO and founder of WNORTH, a global community of women who have their sights set on the C-suite.

 

Denver native Keisha Makonese’s passion for planning events dates way back. Her latest gig as director of sales and corporate events at Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum began nine years ago. In this role, Makonese helps oversee an average of 150 private events at Wings Over the Rockies each year, from making meetings for 20 people to annual dinners for 2,000 fun and interactive experiences.

 

Ken Hayward has spent nearly his entire career serving at one hotel. But when you start your career at one of the most iconic and historic hotels in Michigan— even the nation—it’s hard to see yourself anywhere else. Hayward, executive vice president and managing director of Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, was recently named Hotelier of the Year by Historic Hotels of America. This honor comes decades after Hayward was given an unexpected opportunity.