2018 Annual Conference Speakers


Rita D. McClenny
President & CEO
Virginia Tourism Corporation

Rita D. McClenny serves as president and CEO of the Virginia Tourism Corporation, a state agency charged with marketing the Commonwealth as a premier travel destination and film location. The mission of VTC is to expand domestic and international in-bound travel and motion picture production to generate revenue and employment in Virginia.

Ms. McClenny was born and raised in Southampton County, VA and presently resides in the City of Richmond.

Tourism and film are instant revenue generators for Virginia. In 2016, tourism in Virginia generated $24 billion in revenue, supported 230,000 jobs and over $1.7 billion in state and local taxes. Tourism is the 5th largest private employer in Virginia.

In 2016, the film and motion picture industry’s overall contribution to the state’s economy totaled $696.8 million, and created 4,287 jobs, and generated $27.1 million in state and local tax revenue.


Esra Calvert
Director, Research
Virginia Tourism Corporation



Esra Calvert serves as the Director of Research at Virginia Tourism Corporation (VTC), Virginia’s official tourism and film marketing and partnership agency. In her role, she is responsible for economics and consumer research and insights.
Prior to her work at VTC, she taught at Virginia Tech and Virginia Commonwealth University. She holds a M.S. degree in Organizational Development from Radford University and completed all her Ph.D. coursework in Hospitality and Tourism Management at Virginia Tech.

Esra also serves on the International Board of Travel and Tourism Research Association. She, a native of Turkey, loves to travel and aspires to make her own wine one day. She resides in historic Richmond with her husband and eight-year old multipoo.


Tara Liaschenko
Creative Executive Officer
The Link Event Professionals, Inc.


With over 15 years of planning experience, Tara Liaschenko is an award-winning professional who has earned an impeccable reputation for creativity and excellence in the event and meeting planning industry. 

She is the recent recipient of the 2015 MPI Global RISE Award for Member of the Year.

Her clients include corporations, associations, nonprofits, religious groups, and individuals. She has successfully executed thousands of events during her career ranging from those modest in size to conventions and tradeshows of 5,000 attendees and budgets of well over a half million dollars. Whether you are seeking sophisticated, traditional, zany, or surprising, an anniversary party or a board meeting, her organization excels at engaging audiences, increasing participation, building your brand, and accelerating desired outcomes.


Brandon Johnson
Director, Business Development 
CI Azumano Business Travel

Brandon Johnson serves as Director of Business Development for CI Azumano Business Travel, a leading travel management company headquartered in Virginia Beach, VA. In his role, he is responsible for helping clients establish and innovate their centralized corporate travel programs.

Prior to joining CI Azumano, Brandon spent 6 years in hotel sales representing properties under the Hilton, Starwood, and Marriott umbrellas. He has been recognized as an emerging leader by a number of hospitality industry organizations.

In addition to 4 years of service with MPI Virginia’s Board of Directors, Brandon has served on MPI’s Global Task Force for Diversity & Inclusion as well as MPI’s Global Task Force for Digital Innovation. He currently serves on a number of committees for the Virginia Business Travel Association and is a member of tHRive, the Millennial arm of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce. 

Caitlin McKenna
Senior Director,
Customer Experience & Innovation
Hilton Worldwide

Caitlin is responsible for Customer Experience and Innovation for Hilton’s portfolio of full service brands (Hilton, Curio, and Doubletree) and leads product innovation teams events across all fourteen brands of Hilton.

Caitlin led the design and creation of the Hilton Innovation Gallery, an incubator and experiential showcase for leading-edge product developments that will shape the future of hospitality and guest experience.  Her team is constantly updating the gallery to provide the backdrop for convening gatherings of Hilton team members with investors, operators, and technology and service partners to conceive and develop hospitality experiences of the future.

Prior to her career at Hilton, Caitlin was in advisory and consultancy roles focused on operational and investment analytics to maximize individual asset and portfolio value.

Caitlin is graduate of the Cornell School of Hotel Administration. She continues her relationship with Cornell as a member of the advisory board of The Cornell Institute for Healthy Futures.  Caitlin lectures and speaks regularly at universities and events on taking a creative realist approach to delivering shareholder returns while bettering human lives.

Ann Buhl, CMP, CMM
Senior Manager, Meeting & Event Planning
The Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond

Ann Buhl, CMP, CMM, has over 30 years’ experience in the Hospitality and Event Industry and has a passion for leadership development, strategic meetings management and facilitating organizational change management. Ann is a past president of MPI Virginia, has actively served on numerous committees and in various roles since 2009.
She has been a featured speaker at various MPI chapter meetings, annual conferences and CMP Conclave to discuss how to reach your professional, client and program goals, strategic meetings management and had to improve planner and supplier relationships. Ann currently teaches CMP certification courses, serves as Director of Leadership Development for the Virginia Chapter, and facilitates MPI annual retreats.

During the day she works as, Senior Manager, Meeting and Event Planning for The Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond where she has the opportunity to lead a diverse team of industry professionals and doesn’t believe successful careers just happen. They have to be planned and executed like a successful program or event.