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Kelli Hepler embarks on tourism leadership journey

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Kelli Hepler, Delta Tourism Cabinet, has been named to inaugural class for the Colorado Tourism Leadership Journey, a brand-new, yearlong executive training program aimed at building the state tourism industry's bench strength. The announcement was made by the Colorado Tourism Office (CTO).

Kepler explains, "I applied for the training in hopes that I would gain skills that I could share with our chamber of commerce partners and others who work to bring tourism to Delta County. This is a new program offered through the Colorado Tourism Office to provide training to people around the state. The hope is that the 20 people involved will share the knowledge with their peers and that it will bring a unified tourism message throughout the state."

The 20 participants come from tourism settings as diverse as Expedia, YMCA of the Rockies and the National Park Service. Their yearlong experience will begin at the Colorado Governor's Tourism Conference Oct. 25-27 in Grand Junction.

"Our hope is that this program creates value not only for participants and their employers, but for Colorado," said CTO director Cathy Ritter. "In a state with just 1.7 percent of the nation's population but 7.7 percent of U.S. tourism jobs, it's vital to ensure that the tourism industry has access to talented leaders who can keep growing our competitive edge."

To lead the tuition-based program, CTO has engaged the Keystone Policy Center, a public policy group with offices in Keystone, Denver and Washington, D.C. Under the guidance of the CTO and a statewide Leadership Committee, Keystone is designing a curriculum that encompasses facilitated sessions, required reading, one-on-one mentoring, action learning projects and experiential learning opportunities in three different Colorado locations.

The planning process began in November 2016 under the guidance of an 18-member advisory group chaired by Colorado Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne. The group, representing academic and industry professionals, guided the CTO in shaping the program. A first of its kind among state tourism offices, the program is the latest expression of the CTO's new statewide strategic plan for the tourism industry, the Colorado Tourism Roadmap.

"This program is an innovative way of addressing an issue that is on the minds of hotel operators who are constantly faced with staffing challenges at all levels, including leadership positions," said Amie Mayhew, president and CEO of the Colorado Hotel and Lodging Association. "With an increase in retirements from within the leadership ranks, finding leaders to catch the reins is becoming increasingly more difficult. There's a real concern about where that next generation of leaders is going to come from, which is why CHLA is excited about this program."

Mayhew serves on the CTO's Leadership Committee and took part in an industry interview panel that spent three days conducting 30-minute virtual interviews with 32 applicants last month.

The highest-scoring candidates ultimately represented a cross-section of Colorado's tourism industry, including the ski, casino, hotel and beer industries as well as academia and several of the state's destination marketing organizations.

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