MADISON, Wis. (May 6, 2021) –Six recipients were presented with Governor’s Tourism Awards for their outstanding contributions to the state’s hospitality and travel industry during the last day of the virtual 2021 Wisconsin Governor’s Conference on Tourism (WIGCOT) today.  

“This past year was unlike anything we’ve ever seen, yet these outstanding nominees tackled it with creativity, passion and drive,” said Acting Secretary Anne Sayers. “I’m so proud to recognize unbelievable talent in Wisconsin’s tourism industry. Congratulations to everyone, nominees and winners alike.”

Sponsored by the Governor’s Council on Tourism, the Governor’s Tourism Awards recognize individuals, organizations and businesses for their excellence, dedication and impact on Wisconsin’s travel and hospitality industry.

The six recipients are as follows:

  • Arts, Culture and Heritage – Wormfarm Institute’s Farm Art DTour. Wormfarm Institute of Reedsburg explores the timeless connections between land and people through the vision of artists. The Farm Art DTour winds through scenic working farmland of central Sauk County punctuated by site-responsive art, roadside poetry, local food, pasture performances, and more. The DTour has gained national and international attention and accolades. In 2020, 18,000+ people traveled the 50-mile DTour route between Plain and Sauk City, coming from the rural Midwest and all the way from the East Coast. The event features Wisconsin’s handmade, homegrown, unique, creative people, culture, heritage and communities. It’s a model for creative tourism experiences that educate, entertain and engage from the ground up.
  • Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Inclusion (DEAI) Award – Rep Forward and Chief Diversity Officer Tammy Belton-Davis, Milwaukee Repertory Theater. Chief Diversity Officer Tammy Belton-Davis joined Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s leadership team as one of the first DEAI executive leaders at a cultural organization in the country. Belton-Davis created a plan and systems to ensure that one of the state’s leading performing arts organizations is welcoming and inspirational to all, thereby attracting diverse talent and audiences to Wisconsin. The theater launched Rep Forward to achieve these goals, the theater’s extensive internal and external strategic action plan for equity, diversity, access and inclusion. During the pandemic, the theater launched numerous online and digital content platforms that delivered entertainment and vital information directly to people’s homes. Under the banner of “From our Home to Your Home,” viewers worldwide experienced new short-plays, virtual performances, discussion panels, educational programs and engagement seminars created by more than 100 artists most of whom were black, indigenous or people of color.
  • Rising Star – Claire Koenig, VISIT Milwaukee. Claire Koenig joined VISIT Milwaukee in 2017 as a communications manager working with travel writers to showcase the best of the Greater Milwaukee area and increase the economic impact of tourism in the region. In 2020, Claire was promoted to senior media relations manager and in March 2021 she took over the communications director position. In the past 4 years, Claire has enhanced the tourism industry in Wisconsin by securing over 1,000 national, 50 international and nearly 400 midwestern media hits in addition to hosting over 120 individual travel journalists, not including conference attendees. She also built important industry relationships nationwide connecting VISIT Milwaukee communications departments with many more destination marketing organizations, creating relationships that provide valuable advice and collaborations.
  • Service Excellence Award – Geronimo Hospitality Group. Geronimo Hospitality Group owns and operates restaurants and hotels in Beloit and Delafield. In March 2020, Geronimo launched its Employee Meal Program, an outside-the-box idea that would supply weekly, complimentary family meals to every Geronimo Hospitality Group employee and all levels of the organization - including those laid off due to the pandemic - cooked by Geronimo’s culinary team and served carryout style by the restaurant and hotel managers. Over the course of eight weeks, Geronimo Hospitality Group served 2,139 fully prepared meals to employees during quarantine (1,346 in Beloit and 793 in Delafield).
  • Stewardship Award – Mammoth Hike Challenge, Ice Age Trail Alliance. The Mammoth Hike Challenge, held during the month of October 2020, encouraged the growing number of new Ice Age Trail users, long-time users and out-of-state tourists to hike, run or walk 40 miles as they visit the 13 designated Ice Age Trail Communities spread throughout Wisconsin. This challenge was designed to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Ice Age Trail becoming a National Scenic Trail, increase tourism in Ice Age Trail Communities and extend the fall hiking season. Participants who completed their 40 miles and visited multiple Trail Communities submitted an online completion form to receive a commemorative patch and certificate. Almost 2,000 completion forms were submitted via an online portal, representing 3,921 people, 3,649 commemorative patches and 3,105 certificates.
  • Legacy Award – Dan Small, Outdoor Wisconsin TV. During his tenure at Northland College in Ashland from 1972 to 1982, Dan Small worked as a Professor, PR Director and Chairman of the Humanities Division before being chosen in 1984 as Host/Producer of “Outdoor Wisconsin,” a new TV series launched by Milwaukee PBS. He continues in that iconic role today, 36 years later, on all PBS stations in Wisconsin and online, with additional visibility in neighboring states where local PBS affiliates air “Outdoor Wisconsin.” While promoting Wisconsin destinations on each of his weekly broadcasts and motivating viewers to travel here, he also built a national reputation through his freelance writing and photography. His decades of award-winning media work continues today as he showcases Wisconsin locations, businesses and lifestyles via magazine articles, radio programs and podcasts, social media posts, online videos and TV specials.

Learn more about the nominees for the Arts, Culture and Heritage; Stewardship; Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Inclusion; and Legacy Awards here and the nominees for the Rising Star and Service Excellence Awards here.