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Achievers & Accolades

CVB Announces Tourism Award Winners

By Staff Reports, posted May 28, 2024
Bob Rippy
In observance of National Travel and Tourism Week (May 19-25), the Wilmington and Beaches Convention & Visitors Bureau recently announced the winners of the 2024 Tourism Star and Tourism Legacy awards.

Kim Hufham, president and CEO of the New Hanover County Tourism Development Authority doing business as the Wilmington and Beaches CVB, presented the awards during the organization’s annual Travel Rally breakfast and celebration May 14 at the Wilmington Convention Center. 

“Each year during our Travel Rally celebration, the Wilmington and Beaches CVB celebrates the travel industry and salutes local tourism employees. We are deeply grateful for all that our dedicated industry partners do each day to make Wilmington and our island beaches the best of the Carolina coast,” Kim Hufham stated in the release. “This year’s Jane Peterson Tourism Legacy Award honoree is Bob Rippy, owner of Jungle Rapids Family Fun Park. Due to a record number of Tourism Star nominations, this year the CVB presented 2024 Tourism Star awards to three deserving recipients: Barbara Parker (director of housekeeping for The Lighthouse at Kure Beach); Davin Coutu (bartender/front-of-house team leader for The Oceanic at Wrightsville Beach); and Amanda Leese (owner/operator/tour guide of Wilmington Walking Tours).” 

Established in 2017, the Tourism Star award recognizes hospitality and tourism industry professionals who demonstrate pride and commitment to the hospitality industry and exemplify a selfless spirit of service and leadership that enhances the visitor experience. Each of the 2024 Tourism Stars are exemplary hospitality professionals:

Parker is a native of Virginia who has worked in New Hanover County’s hospitality industry for the past 7 years at beach vacation rentals and small lodging properties.

"During the three years she has worked at The Lighthouse at Kure Beach, numerous guests have left handwritten notes to personally thank Barbara not only for a clean and well-stocked room, but also for her kindness, happy disposition, smiles, special attention, and genuine caring and support during their stay," the release stated. "The notes from adults and children are posted on a bulletin board at the inn, serving as a reminder of how much guests appreciate excellent service."

Coutu has worked in New Hanover County’s hospitality industry for more than two decades. Originally from Morganton in the foothills of North Carolina, Davin moved to Wilmington to attend UNCW and never left. As a bartender he has been making guests happy for the past 25 years.

"Not only is Davin at the top of his game as a bartender and front-of-house shift leader, he also supports his community and is among the destination’s biggest cheerleaders, always willing to share favorite activities, things to see and do, and places to hang out," the release stated.

Leese took a leap of faith in 2021 when she left a 20-year career in sales and marketing for hotels and resorts to start a daily tour business that combines her marketing background, hospitality skills, knowledge of local history and passions for preservation and architecture, the release stated.

"By day this UNCW history graduate leads popular walking tours of Downtown and 8 historic neighborhoods. In the evenings she combines history with expertise as a wine sommelier during happy hour tours that support small businesses with stops at historic pubs and wine bars," the release stated. "At the end of each tour, guests are encouraged to visit area attractions, museums and parks, along with recommendations of restaurants and bars."

In her spare time, she volunteers for the Historic Wilmington Foundation and the Lower Cape Fear Historical Society. In a single recent week, Amanda hosted more than 120 guests on tours that highlight the charm and character of Wilmington. 

The Tourism Legacy Award was established in 2018 in honor of the late Jane Peterson, the CVB’s first executive director to recognize visionary leadership and significant contributions to the hospitality industry.

"This year’s recipient [Rippy] is a North Carolina native who left a successful 15-year career as a Wall Street executive to become a 'King of Fun' in the amusements industry," the release stated.

Rippy grew up in Burlington where he was an Eagle Scout. He went on to earn undergraduate and graduate degrees from East Carolina University and taught middle school science during the 1970s before starting a self-serve car wash business. From there he joined EF Hutton and Co., which led to jet-setting management positions with leading financial corporations. In 1997, Rippy grew weary of the Wall Street lifestyle and left that world to return to Wilmington where he formed Wrightsville Farms Management Group, the parent company of Jungle Rapids. 

Rippy serves on the UNCW Board of Trustees and has served on the Cape Fear Community College Board of Trustees, the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, the UNC Board of Governors and numerous advisory and advancement boards for UNCW and ECU, accofding to the release.

A longtime member of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, Rippy’s industry impact extends beyond North Carolina. As an IAAPA member, he served on multiple committees and on the Board of Directors from 2007 until 2011, according to the release. During his reign as board chair, Rippy appeared on the November 2010 cover of FUNWORLD magazine, the release stated. 

"Bob Rippy’s contributions to and ongoing support of tourism in New Hanover County cannot be overstated," the release stated. "In addition to owning a family-friendly attraction that employs approximately 100 local residents, Bob is also an advocate for legislation that protects tourism. Over the years, Bob has been instrumental in lobbying to save our summers, standing firm with the CVB to oppose changes to the school calendar."
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