ELKO, Nev. — The Nevada Division of Tourism recognized outstanding members of the state’s rural tourism industry at the VolunTourism Awards Dinner April 27 in Elko. The awards ceremony was a highlight of the state’s annual Rural Roundup conference.

“Tourism is a significant component of rural Nevada economies,” Claudia Vecchio, Nevada Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs director, said. “It is a $2.3 billion industry that continues to grow thanks to the efforts of the tourism professionals in rural Nevada. It is our pleasure to recognize those efforts with this year’s VolunTourism awards.”

Visitation to rural Nevada — all counties except Clark and Washoe — was 5.23 million in 2016, up about 7.9 percent from 2015.

TravelNevada presented six VolunTourism awards, one in each of Nevada’s six tourism territories, as well as two statewide awards and a new accolade, the Larry J. Friedman Industry Partner of the Year Award. Also presented at the ceremony was the $1,000 June Stannard Rural Tourism Memorial Scholarship.

VolunTourism award recipients:

Cowboy Country
Yvonne Stuart, president of the Wells Chamber of Commerce, has been involved with Nevada’s Cowboy Country Territory for several years. She has been instrumental in promoting tourism throughout Cowboy Country Territory and the state of Nevada. Yvonne has worked various trade shows to promote the territory such as the International Sportsmen’s Expo in 2015 and the Utah Travel Expo in 2017.

Indian Territory
Billie Jean Guerrero is the director of the Pyramid Lake Museum and Visitors Center for the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe. Since Billie Jean began just one short year ago, she has been able to significantly increase visitation to the museum, has expanded the offerings at the museum gift shop, has created new and interesting exhibits and has been instrumental in digitizing photos and documents of the tribe. She brings her experience and passion for her culture to the museum, offering classes in the traditional arts that utilize her unique talents.

Las Vegas Territory
Julie Banbury became membership director in midsummer 2016 and immediately upgraded the membership program, providing a more streamlined application process for candidates. She developed a formal membership drive involving Las Vegas Territory directors and members. As a result, the Las Vegas Territory projects an increased membership base of 15 percent to 20 percent for 2017. A well-known and a respected citizen of the community, Julie is a sales manager at one of Las Vegas’ newest attractions while also serving as a representative of a local pet adoption center.

Pony Express Territory
Cindy Beutel works behind the scenes in Eureka to foster community involvement and increase participation in special events. She actively supported the previous director of the Eureka Opera House and participated in Pony Express Territory, ensuring that Eureka County had a presence in regional tourism efforts. She has been active in the Nevada Arts Council and the Nevada Division of Tourism, and plans to build on those relationships. Cindy’s work is driven by a passion and love for her community and for her state.

Nevada Silver Trails Territory
Ray Fox of Certified Folder Display Service, Inc., has provided Nevada Silver Trails with travel brochure distribution services for a number of years. He has gone out of his way to match Nevada Silver Trails with the visitors most likely to come to the region. Ray participates in Nevada Silver Trails activities, attends all state tourism conferences and has sponsored Rural Roundup since its inception.

Reno-Tahoe Territory
Bill Henderson, director of sales for the Carson Valley Inn in Minden, has been a passionate participant with the Reno-Tahoe Territory for more than 30 years. He serves on the RTT board of directors and is generous with his time and expertise in all areas of tourism sales and marketing. He is a strategic thinker and brings a wealth of institutional knowledge to the RTT. With style, grace and diplomacy, Bill represents the quintessential professional: always an advocate for what will improve his community, including the property for which he works, the county in which he lives, and the state he promotes.

Statewide Excellence
The White Pine County Tourism & Recreation Board has promoted not only the Ely community but Pony Express Territory and the entire state through recent projects and events. Participating at travel trade shows organized by the American Bus Association, the National Tour Association and others, White Pine County represented not only the county but Nevada as well. A team player, White Pine County was instrumental in marketing the 30th anniversary of the Loneliest Road in America campaign in 2016, and in promoting nearby Great Basin National Park during the National Park Service centennial in 2016. White Pine County also hosted the annual Nevada Tribal Tourism Conference earlier this month.

Statewide Excellence in Grants
Duane Jones leaves no stone unturned when submitting grant applications. There is no question as to the project’s objective and the expected return on investment. He always supplies a 100 percent cash match and has successfully increased visitation to his destination year after year. Duane was awarded $44,593 for six rural marketing grant projects in FY2016 and $5,750 for two Projects Relating to Tourism grants in the current cycle to promote and improve the California Trail Interpretive Center just outside of Carlin on the Interstate 80 corridor.

Larry J. Friedman Industry Partner of the Year
Sue Barton, deputy director of the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority, has shown longtime commitment to the tourism industry through her work with the Reno-Tahoe Territory. At the LTVA, Sue demonstrates superior marketing and event-planning skills, but her dedication to the tourism industry is most evident in her involvement with Reno-Tahoe Territory. As territory chairwoman, she regularly promotes the region at trade shows and on TravelNevada-sponsored sales missions. She has proven an invaluable partner on TravelNevada familiarization tours, helping to raise awareness of Nevada tourism among media and within the travel industry.

June Stannard Memorial Scholarship recipient
Skylar Patricia Merschel, a senior at Spring Creek High School in Spring Creek, will receive this year’s June Stannard Memorial Scholarship, which assists a Nevada high school senior planning to pursue a career in hospitality or travel, or a tourism-related field. Skylar’s interest in hospitality is tied to her participation in school leadership programs, including her work as the National Association of Student Council’s northern region representative. She plans to attend Boise State University and major in both business and entrepreneurship management, a program that will include hospitality studies. While at college, she plans to partn4er with a local business to gain hands-on hospitality experience.

The Nevada Division of Tourism is a division of the Nevada Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs. More commonly known as TravelNevada, it is responsible for promoting and marketing Nevada as a travel destination to domestic and international travelers. Operating within a performance-based budget structure, TravelNevada is funded solely by a percentage of lodging tax paid by overnight guests throughout the state. For more, visit TravelNevada.biz.

EDITORS: For images of VolunTourism award winners, see http://bit.ly/2ptKCjY.