Visit Ventura finishes in the top three in U.S. Travel Association National Award 

Marlyss Auster Visit Ventura CEO & President and Cheryl Shallanberger Vice President of Sales & Marketing accepting the National Award.

Visit Ventura was chosen as a finalist for a prestigious ESTO Award, finishing in the top three in a nationwide competition between destination marketing organizations across the country in a contest sponsored by the United States Travel Association. 

“We are beyond thrilled and so very proud of our Visit Ventura team,” said Marlyss Auster, Visit Ventura President & CEO.  “Finishing in the top three in a contest of this scope is a first for us, and that makes us proud. But we’re proudest of the program itself, which helped support our local Ventura businesses during a very difficult time. Our aim has always been to do the next right thing to help our community, in both good times and harder times. ”

Winners were announced at ESTO’s Awards Dinner on Tuesday, August 17 in Los Angeles, California. Ventura placed in the top three for their entry “Love, via Beer, in the Time of Covid” in the Virtual Programming category. The entry showcased Visit Ventura’s “Thirsty Thursday” program, an innovative virtual program that, among other things, helped boost both business and morale in the Ventura community during the pandemic.  

The U.S. Travel Association is a national, non-profit organization representing all components of the travel industry. As the united voice of the industry, U.S. Travel prioritizes high-impact issues that matter most, identifying both the travel industry’s biggest opportunities and challenges. ESTO is an acronym for “Educational Seminar for Tourism Organizations.” 

Of late, of course, the biggest challenge has been the pandemic, and Visit Ventura’s “Thirsty Thursday” program addressed those challenges head-on. The program worked with happy simplicity. Each Thursday, a Ventura winery or brewery stepped up to the virtual counter to do a live virtual tasting on Facebook, the Visit Ventura team broadcasting the tasting to its 200,000-plus viewers and beyond. Viewers bought the beer and wine beforehand. During the tasting, the brewers and vintners explained the science-cum-magic behind the tastes while viewers happily sipped and asked questions via chat. The tastings strayed beyond beer and wine, into locally made chocolates and ice cream.

The program didn’t snowball; it galloped out of the gates. The total individual reaches of the live broadcasts ranged from 10,000 to 12,000 viewers. Brewers sold out of beer. The chocolatier sold 200 boxes of chocolates, earning roughly $10,000 at a time when sales were not quite, but very close to, hopeless. 

“We knew we wanted to help our community in the best way we could,” said Auster, who attended the Los Angeles awards ceremony with Visit Ventura Vice President of Sales & Marketing Cheryl Shallanberger. “Without visitors, our local businesses needed help. While we’re proud to be a finalist, what we’re truly proudest of is how the Ventura community stepped up to help keep our businesses in business.”

“It was a really fun program, but, on a serious note, it was something more,” added Shallanberger. “It may have just been beer and wine, but it was also a reminder of the things that matter. A positive attitude and caring. Invincible spirit. How good things always outlast the dark.”

Visit to learn more about the Visit Ventura team and how they contribute to driving Ventura’s economy through tourism. 


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