For Visit Plano Executive Director Mark Thompson, “an unwavering commitment to providing the highest level of customer service” is a brand constant that continues to attract and retain group business, and set Plano apart. “The Visit Plano Team has consistently treated and assisted all groups equally, from the smallest corporate meeting to large citywide conventions,” he noted.

In an ever-evolving meetings marketplace, Texas groups can always depend on the state’s unique brand of hospitality. The amity (the word Texas derives from Native American words for ‘friends’ or ‘allies’) takes many forms on and off the visitor frontline, but its single source is home-state pride.

Appearing here and in our Texas supplements over the past decade, Lone Star ambassadors share memories, highlight accomplishments and celebrate the ties that bind.

The Industry Leaders


Maura Allen Gast, Executive Director, Irving CVB

Celebrating 25 years with the bureau in 2016, including the last 14 as executive director, Gast, who was born in San Angelo, Texas, has led the business-first city’s transformation into a group and visitor magnet. Here, “Irving’s number-one fan” (Dallas Business Journal, 2016) reflects on her milestone years so far.

What drew you to the meetings industry and the Irving CVB?
Coming out of college, I knew I wanted to be in the meetings and events and advertising and promotions spaces. But I knew zero about the CVB world. Like many peers, my arrival at the Irving CVB was accidental—I came here through our film commission while working to recruit commercial production to the area.
Which accomplishments make you smile most?
Watching the many talented people who work here grow and grow, and the convention center’s opening. And now, seeing the rest of that monster vision coming to fruition with the Irving Music Factory opening this Labor Day weekend, and the Westin headquarter hotel under construction and opening at the end of 2018.
What essential elements set both the city and the state apart for groups?
We are quintessentially the ‘hometown with a world view,’ offering the best elements of a tight-knit community in terms of service and scale, alongside world-class venues and amenities. We’re truly a global community, with the nation’s most diverse zip code.
What are the continuing rewards of your leadership role?
Working with the amazing teams that make it all possible, including our energetic CVB and convention center staffs, and rock star industry partners. Count also the steadfast support of our elected and appointed officials, and passion and pride of the community at large.

Ernie Loeffler, President/CEO, Fredericksburg CVB

One-year shy of his 20th anniversary as the bureau’s leader, Loeffler, who spent 14 years at the San Antonio CVB before relocating to this historic German settlement in the heart of Texas Hill Country, reflects proudly on two decades of growth and change.  

What drew you to Fredericksburg?
My destination marketing career began in my hometown of San Antonio, where I spent 14 great years learning from seasoned industry pros on both the leisure and convention sides at what is now Visit San Antonio.

Both with family roots in the Hill Country, my wife and I often talked about moving there ‘someday.’ That opportunity arose when the director’s position at Fredericksburg CVB opened up. We visited in December, when Main Street was decked out for the holidays. The magical quality assured me that I could ‘sell’ this destination to both leisure visitors and convention planners.  

What accomplishments are you most proud of?
Changing the marketing platform from ‘we are just a small town’ to ‘we are a premiere travel experience in the state of Texas.’ When I arrived here, the marketing campaign was mainly aimed at Texas. Now we market Fredericksburg and the Texas Hill Country to the world.  

What is the essential appeal of the region—and Texas—for groups?
Amid the rugged beauty of Fredericksburg and the Texas Hill Country, the region’s European roots are still evident in the food, music, festivals and buildings.

Once its own country, Texas is a rich story of spirit, mystique and friendliness, expressed in different ways around the state.  
What are the continuing rewards of your leadership role?
Firstly, knowing that our dedicated bureau team helps create and support direct jobs for 1,000-plus community members. Secondly, that we contribute to making this vibrant place a great place for visitors to experience and for locals to live. And, that the leisure and meetings industries provide experiences where people learn and expand their horizon, create lifetime memories and recharge for their daily lives. In my book, that’s pretty great!