Event Service Professionals Association (ESPA) has welcomed Julie Brakenbury, CGSP, as its new president.

Brakenbury is director of destination services for Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau in North Carolina. she has been with the organization since 2007. Before this, Brakenbury worked in hotel and group sales for the likes of Washington Duke Inn & Golf Club and Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau, both in Durham, North Carolina.

“Becoming president of ESPA is an exciting honor. ESPA members are incredibly hardworking and professional, always impressing me with their creativity and dedication,” Brakenbury said. “They’re the lifeblood of successful events. Because of Covid, challenges await us in 2021. However, our members are ready and up to the task. Together, we’ll lead the world of events through this economic recovery and build a stronger ESPA for the future.”

In addition, ESPA welcomed six new board members.

  • Victor Sanchez, CMP, convention services manager at Isleta Resort & Casino
  • Zack Davis, CMP, CTA, vice president of destination services at Louisville Tourism
  • Katy Willis, director of convention services at Visit Seattle
  • Kristen Turner, CMP, DES, director of convention services at VisitPittsburgh
  • Beth Butler, director of destination services at Visit Charlotte
  • Dominique Bonds, director of Guest Experience at Pennsylvania Convention Center

ESPA Gives Honors

ESPA recognized three leaders who, in the face of challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic, rose above. Recipients of the Leadership in Services award are those who have demonstrated leadership in their respective organizations through Covid and “have been proactive and positive in the face of adversity.”

Kristin Turner, CMP, DES, director of convention services at VisitPittsburgh; Una Garvey, director of convention and tourism at Tampa Convention Center; and Katherine O’Donnell, executive vice president for Richmond Region Tourism in Virginia, were honored with a top national award for leadership in event services.

Turner led the development of Pittsburgh Commitment, a health and safety initiative bringing meeting professionals, venues and health-care experts together to build a safer city.

“Turner’s leadership made it possible to launch [Pittsburgh Commitment] as we attempt to build confidence among our event organizers, their attendees and the community that serves them,” said Jerad Bachar, CEO of VisitPittsburgh. “It is because of this program that we have been able to build confidence among our elected officials that Pittsburgh is ready to reimagine event planning and deliver gold-standard health and safety protocols.”

Matthew Robinette, director of visitor experience for Richmond Region Tourism praised O’Donnell. “When we think of someone that has demonstrated superior services support, we think of someone that has showed up throughout the year,” he said. “Even despite the many challenges the year 2020 has reigned upon us all, there was someone in Richmond that opened themselves up to adapt to the ever-changing landscape of now. Katherine O’Donnell broke down the walls between work and quality of life.”

ESPA’s 2022 annual conference will take place at The Westin Kansas City at Crown Center in Missouri Jan. 21-23.


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