saúl blanco Sosa
Sustainable Tourism Services manager
NEPCon - nature economy and people connected

Having majored in social and legal sciences and specialized in tourism development, Saúl Blanco Sosa's journey in the tourism industry began 25 years ago in Tikal, Petén, Guatemala as a local tour guide specializing in natural and archaeological interpretation. Then in  1999, he was involved in a project to design and implement the first sustainable tourism certification program in Guatemala. This activity became “a vehicle” for Saúl to work in promoting environmental and social practices that, if applied properly, can bring great benefits to the people and to the environment around them. 

 

As a representative for the Guatemala sustainable tourism certification seal, Saúl has participated at the Mohonk Summit on tourism certification and was part of the group that signed and later supported the process that led to the creation of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC). Since 1999, Saúl has been responsible for the design and implementation of three sustainable tourism certification initiatives, trained close to 100 tourism auditors, and led more than 600 certification audits all over Latin America.

 

While certification has been Saúl's focus for over 25 years in the tourism industry, he has also worked for different tourism projects implemented by national and international organizations such as The Guatemala Development Foundation (FUNDESA), The Guatemala Tourism Board, Counterpart International, and The Rainforest Alliance. Currently, he is the global sustainable tourism services manager for the Danish nonprofit, NEPCon - Nature Economy and People Connected. 

John Francis
Board Member
Sustainable Travel International

Recently retired as Vice President for Research, Conservation, and Exploration at the National Geographic Society, John Francis' professional career is rooted in wildlife biology and promotion of human understanding of their delicate position within nature. Outside of his National Geographic Society responsibilities, John served on boards and committees for the US National Park System, the Commission for Education and Communication of the IUCN, and the US National Commission for UNESCO. In addition, he serves on the Board of Sustainable Travel International and is a key promoter of citizen science through BioBlitzes now expanding in popularity. His Ph.D. in behavioral ecology and postdoctoral research at the Smithsonian Institution, as well as representation of more than ten thousand grantees funded by the National Geographic Society around the world provide a broad understanding of conservation and research programs globally. John’s close work with the media, six years as a film producer for National Geographic, and combination of science and storytelling at this institution, give him a unique appreciation of changemaking central to conservation organizations. 

 

Among varied efforts in safeguarding the planet, John is keenly interested in tourism as a motive force for conserving cultural and natural resources.  His oversight of National Geographic's Center for Sustainable Destination as well as development of Mapguide and Geotourism initiatives, coordinated with the work of Traveler magazine, recognized travelers and service providers focused on sustainable action.  His additional role as advisor and host/expert on National Geographic Private Jet trips and Lindblad/NGS expeditions put him in touch with luxury travelers interested in leaving positive wakes while enjoying destinations worthy of both visitation and protection. His unique history in research, conservation and tourism are poised to promote sustainable choices increasingly sought by travelers worldwide.

isabel hill
director, national travel and tourism office
united states department of commerce

Isabel Hill is the Director of the National Travel and Tourism Office at the U.S. Department of Commerce. She and her team support and implement policies and programs that foster the competitiveness of U.S. travel and tourism industries in collaboration with the private sector and other federal agencies. Her office produces the national statistics on travel and tourism, is the Federal liaison to Brand USA, the public private partnership that promotes the U.S. as a travel destination. Her office and represents U.S. travel and tourism policy in bilateral and multilateral fora.

 

A leader in tourism policy and planning, she led the development of the first National Travel and Tourism Strategy for the United States across 12 federal agencies and with the private sector, reflecting her commitment to public-private engagement and partnerships to advance shared objectives. Isabel led negotiations to open the market for packaged leisure travel from China to the United States and developed the successful economic case for extending reciprocal visa validity between the United States and China from one to 10 years. She directed the first International Tourism Promotion Program for the United States. Based on the platform “You’ve Seen the Films, Now Visit the Set”, the award-winning campaign paved the way for the creation of Brand USA, the nation’s first dedicated tourism marketing organization.

 

Isabel is past Chair of the Tourism Committee of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, serves on several working groups of the World Economic Forum, and is a member of the Advisory Committee of the World Tourism Forum Lucerne.

 

Prior to federal service, she served in the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, and in the South Carolina Department of Commerce. During her state service, she and her team were credited with facilitating more than a billion dollars in investment in large-scale tourism development, sports venues, heritage tourism projects, and filmed entertainment.

Matt Jeffery has been with Audubon since 2006 and has more than 25 years of experience in the environmental conservation field. He works closely with and manages projects across several countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, focusing efforts on the protection and improved management of protected areas and Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs), which support bird populations. Most recently, Matt has led eco-tourism initiatives for Audubon, building bird guide and local business capacity to stimulate economic incentives that help protect the forests and nature in Belize, Bahamas, Guatemala, Paraguay, and Colombia.

matt jeffery
deputy director, international alliances program (IAP)
national audubon society
donald Leadbetter
tourism program manager
national park service

Donald Leadbetter is the Tourism Program Manager for the National Park Service, where he coordinates and facilitates collaboration with the travel and tourism sector on relevant issues in support of sustainable tourism that benefits parks, resources, visitors, communities, and the economy. Donald previously worked in the National Park Service's Centennial Office as a partnership coordinator, collaborating with partners on a variety of commemorative programs and events for the agency's 2016 centennial. He has also worked in the National Park Service's Commercial Services program and for the Office of Policy, Management, and Budget at the Department of the Interior. Prior to joining the National Park Service, Mr. Leadbetter spent a decade working on the front lines of the travel and tourism sector, from a lodge in Wyoming to expedition cruise ships around the world. His favorite park (at the moment) is Everglades National Park.

Kelley Louise
Founder & Executive Director
Impact Travel Alliance

A travel entrepreneur passionate about storytelling and sustainability, Kelley Louise is the founder of Impact Travel Alliance, a nonprofit and community aimed at teaching travelers how to spend their money mindfully so that they have a positive impact on local communities and the environment. She also runs Elsewhere Agency, a boutique creative agency for clients in the travel/impact space.

 

Kelley has built her career through carefully selected opportunities in the United States and abroad, including leadership roles in entrepreneurial endeavors, social impact projects and media strategy. A content creator herself, she is an avid photographer and writer. Kelley is a passionate connector, and has an innate ability to build loyal and diverse communities.

 

She has held several keynote speaking positions, and presented at the United Nations, MMGY’s Vail Summit and the NTA’s Travel Exchange. Kelley has been interviewed by press including the New York Times, Fast Company, Forbes and Travel Pulse. She is the recipient of the Bessie Award for excellence in Social Impact from the Women in Travel Summit (WITS).

 

Kelley has a bachelor's degree in Media & Culture from The New School. She is based in Brooklyn, and you can follow her location-independent lifestyle on Instagram @kelleytravels.

seleni Matus
Executive Director
International institute of
tourism studies
The george washington university

Seleni Matus has spent more than 15 years designing and directing large, multi-stakeholder initiatives in Latin America and the Caribbean that have enhanced the quality of tourism offerings and helped to ensure the long-term health of natural ecosystems. These include the Mesoamerican Reef Tourism Initiative and the Sustainable Destinations Alliance of the Americas. She currently is the Executive Director of The George Washington University’s International Institute of Tourism Studies and Adjunct Professor. A native of Belize, Seleni served as the country’s Director of Tourism and oversaw the reorganization of the tourism board to meet the demands of a fiercely competitive global marketplace. She developed the country’s tour guide training and certification program and managed the program for Belize’s ecotourism tour operation and lodges.


In her recent capacity as Vice President of Global Programs at Sustainable Travel International, Seleni provided destination sustainability planning and policy support to more than 15 destinations throughout the Caribbean and Latin America. She also assists multinational corporations such as Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. to develop and implement corporate strategies for destination stewardship. Seleni served as a founding member of the Mesoamerican Ecotourism Alliance and served on the Global Sustainable Tourism Council’s board of directors. Seleni currently serves as a member of the Caribbean Tourism Organization’s Sustainable Tourism Committee, as well as Steering Committee of the Sustainable Tourism Zone of the Caribbean.

Hannah Messerli
Senior Private Sector Specialist
World Bank

Hannah Messerli is a tourism development expert specializing in the economic, environmental, and cultural dynamics of emerging markets. Through the integration of research and best practices, Hannah contributes to advancing sound tourism analytics, policy, and planning critical for creating competitive tourism economies.

 

Presently as a Senior Private Sector Specialist at the World Bank, Hannah supports government initiatives to develop private sector tourism capacity in countries across Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East regions. From 2016-2018, she was the Eisenhower Research Professor of Tourism Policy and Chair of the International Institute of Tourism Studies at The George Washington University’s School of Business. Her expertise includes heritage and nature-based tourism development on local, regional and national levels. She is a frequent collaborator with UNWTO, WTTC and other global organizations on advancing the measurement and monitoring of tourism impacts. Hannah holds a master’s degree in hotel administration and a Ph.D. in tourism planning and development from Cornell University. She also completed a master’s degree in tourism planning at The George Washington University. Hannah has worked in over 45 countries and co-authored Tourism in Africa: Harnessing Tourism for Growth and Improved Livelihoods featuring more than 20 cases on tourism development challenges and solutions.

Kathleen pessolano
director of strategic partnerships
global sustainable tourism council

Kathleen Pessolano is Director of Strategic Partnerships for the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC), the United Nations-backed standard setting body for sustainable tourism. She works with destinations, travel and tourism businesses, and other organizations seeking to apply the GSTC standards for sustainable tourism development at scale. She conducts and oversees GSTC destination sustainability assessments to inform community development and works with companies interested in strategic application of the GSTC Criteria to guide sustainability of their operations and supply chain.

 

In addition to her role for GSTC, Kathleen advises government, corporate, and NGO clients on policy, partnerships, and programs addressing shared development challenges for mutual benefit. Kathleen especially enjoys working with partners devising strategies to strengthen local benefits from tourism, including building capacity and market access for local entrepreneurs and other suppliers.

 

Kathleen previously served as an attorney for the Bureau of Consumer Protection of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, and for the law firm O’Melveny & Myers LLP, focused on antitrust, consumer protection, and energy matters. Early in her career, Kathleen helped the Center for International Private Enterprise advance private sector development in Latin America & the Caribbean. Kathleen is based in Washington, DC.

Jim Sano is the World Wildlife Fund’s Vice President for Conservation Travel. He was formerly President of Geographic Expedition and a Park Ranger at Yosemite National Park. Jim was the founding Chairman of the Mono Lake Foundation and has served on the boards of the Trust for Public Land, the Natural Step, and the Yosemite Restoration Trust. Jim also led the first American men and women’s Everest expedition on the seldom attempted West Ridge, co-leader of the first guided crossing of South Georgia Island, leader of the expedition to reach Gangkar Punseum, and many other expeditions throughout Asia, Latin America, and Africa.

JIm Sano
VIce President for conservation travel
World Wildlife FUnd
norie quintos
President, norie quintos media and communications
editor-at-large, national geographic travel media

Norie Quintos is a consultant for the travel industry on communications strategy, media relations, custom content, and messaging. She helps destinations and travel companies find and tell their stories through communications audits, seminars and training, coaching, and print and pixel projects. An award-winning journalist, she is an Editor at Large for National Geographic Travel Media, contributing content and representing the iconic brand. She has spoken and presented at conferences including the Adventure Travel World Summit, the New York Times Travel Show, International Media Marketplace, the International Indigenous Tourism Conference, and the World Bank World Tourism Day Forum. Her interest areas are cultural tourism, indigenous tourism, sustainable tourism, and transformational travel.

 

She is a member of the Board of Directors of the Adventure Travel Conservation Fund and an advisor to Adventure Media, the Transformational Travel Council, National Geographic Travel Media, Impact Travel Alliance, and the social enterprise startup Giving Way. She is the former executive editor of National Geographic Traveler and was an editor at U.S. News and World Report and Caribbean Travel and Life. She has lived abroad and speaks several languages (badly!). She bikes, hikes, and tweets @noriecicerone.