Members of the Virginia Hospitality & Travel Association (VHTA) elected Rappahannock County restaurateur Debbie Donehey chairman of the board at the statewide association’s annual membership meeting last month at Massanutten Resort.
Donehey, owner of Flint Hill’s Griffin Tavern & Restaurant in Flint Hill, was elected to the post by VHTA members who also elected 11 other board members. With husband Jim, Donehey opened the Griffin in May 2003 and has been a member of the association since. She takes over the position from former chairman Owen Matthews, director of finance at Kings Dominion, who served in the position for two years.
Donehey says she’s committed to significantly increasing VHTA’s membership as chair of the hospitality association. “We are the only unified voice in Virginia for the restaurant, lodging and travel destination associations,” she said Monday. “We also believe in strongly supporting Virginia’s tourism. This year as I walked the halls of the state house and senate it became very clear that our legislators understand it too.”
She pointed to recent Virginia tourism-related statistics, including those that show domestic travel expenditures directly supporting 213,000 jobs statewide in 2013, or 7 percent of total private industry employment.
Donehey said she hopes also to illustrate the value of networking for her peers in Rappahannock and the Piedmont. “We all work very long days,” she said, “and trying to convince an owner to take an hour or two off to ‘chat’ with their peers is difficult, the first time. Also, I want to bring attention to our beautiful part of Virginia. I was born in Virginia and love this state. Anything I can do to entice travel to the Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah Valley and the Piedmont is good for everyone. My role as chair isn’t just about restaurants in my area, it’s about restaurants, lodging and travel destinations in the entire state. I love that I get to travel all across Virginia to do my job!”
Directors elected were Vinay Patel of Fairbrook Hotels, representing Northern Virginia; Kimberly Christner of Cornerstone Hospitality, representing Central-Southern Virginia; and Bill Gambrell of Tautog’s, representing Tidewater-Hampton Roads.
VHTA directors at large are: Jeremy Gill, Comcast Business, representing the Virginia Hospitality Suppliers Association; Robert Reed of SMI Hotel Group, representing the Virginia Hotel & Lodging Association; Neil Burton of Strangeways Brewing, representing the Virginia Restaurant Association; Kurt Burkhart of Charlottesville CVB and Sarah Elson-Staniunas of Massanutten Resort, representing the Virginia Travel Association.