Meet the BestCities Team

Jonas Wilstrup profile image

Jonas Wilstrup

Board Chair & Chief Financial Officer, Wonderful Copenhagen

Wilstrup has been running Wonderful Copenhagen Convention Bureau since January 2014, cementing the city’s position as a leading meeting and convention city. Previously, in his progressive career, Jonas has held positions at the Danish Chamber of Commerce and the Danish Association for Hotels and Restaurants, where his responsibilities included lobbying efforts, eco-labelling and exports.

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Heike Mahmoud CMP profile image

Heike Mahmoud CMP

Alliance Committee Chair & Berlin Conventions Director

Heike Mahmoud, CMP has over 20 years’ experience in the congress and incentive industry. Starting her career in the hotel industry at the Arabella Sheraton in Munich, Mahoud went on to be a Project Manager with a Professional Congress Organizer (PCO) and Marketing Manager for a Trade Show Organizer and Incentive House.

Mahmoud then spent three years as the Sales Manager Conventions at the Estrel Hotel & Convention Center Berlin – Europe’s largest hotel, convention and entertainment complex.

Starting in 2001 at visitBerlin, Heike developed the visitBerlin Berlin Convention Office and is now responsible for the world-wide marketing for Berlin as an excellent convention, meetings and incentive destination.

Mahmoud has been actively involved in diverse associations of the Meeting Industry for many years now: She is the Former Vice-President Meetings Industry and member of the Executive Board of European Cities Marketing (ECM), as well as active in Meeting Professionals International (MPI) – Past-President of the MPI Germany Chapter and in the Society of Incentive Travel Excellence (Site).

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Daniel Palomo

Alliance BD Chair & Director Global Sales, Houston

Daniel Palomo is the Director of Global Sales for the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau. In this capacity Daniel has created and implemented international business, sales and marketing strategies in the international meetings market and tourism industry in Latin America, Europe and Asia Pacific in over 25 countries.

Before his time with the bureau, Daniel worked as Marketing and Strategy Director for the State of Mexico Office for North America and prior to that he was a diplomat at the Mexico Tourism Board within the Consulate General of Mexico in Houston and the Mexico Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

He currently serves as Chair of the Texas Medical Center’s International Affairs Advisory Council (IAAC) and Board Member at the US-Mexico Chamber of Commerce-The Woodlands-Gulf Coast Chapter. Daniel is also the International Congress and Convention Association’s (ICCA) 3rd Vice President and Board Member representative for North America, an association which consists of 1,000 member companies from 90 countries. Since 2014 he is Chair, Alliance Business Development (ABD) for BestCities Global Alliance.

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Burkhard Kieker

CEO, Berlin

Burkhard Kieker has been Chief Executive Officer of visitBerlin (Berlin Tourismus & Kongress GmbH) since 1 January 2009 and is thus the city’s senior tourism & meetings advertiser. He previously headed the Marketing and Corporate Communications department of Berlin Airports for many years. Alongside classic communication, his tasks at Berlin Airports included acquiring and supporting airlines from more than 60 countries in particular. Kieker is a trained journalist (DIE ZEIT, Deutsche Welle TV).

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Sandra Garcia

Conventions Director, Bogota

As a diplomat, Garcia served as First Secretary of the Embassy of Colombia in Ecuador where she was responsible for strategic planning for the management of bilateral relations, and the overall coordination of binational meetings at the highest levels between presidential cabinets, foreign ministers, government officials and institutions of both countries.

Her career has included vast experience in tourism. While at Proexport (now Procolombia), she was Manager of Meetings and Events Tourism, and member of the team that started the international promotion of Colombia as a tourist destination. She also led the creation of the national government’s strategy for attracting meetings and events tourism. She has been a consultant on positioning strategies and internationalization for NSM Consultants.

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Corne Koch

Head of Convention Bureau, Cape Town

Corne Koch is the current Head of the Cape Town and Western Cape Convention Bureau.

Koch first entered the business tourism industry in 2003, joining the Gauteng Tourism Authority (a provincial Destination Marketing Organisation) as their Business Tourism Manager before taking on the role of Communications Manager at the Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa in 2009.

She re-joined the Gauteng Tourism Authority once again in 2010 for another three year stint as Trade Development and Partnership Manager, marketing the brand locally and internationally before joining the bureau in her current capacity in 2014.

Prior to working in destination marketing, she was also involved in the field of Corporate Affairs, being responsible for the South African Chamber of Commerce’s annual meetings and convention for three years.

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Steen Jakobsen

Director of Business Events, Dubai

Steen Jakobsen is the director of Dubai Business Events – the official convention bureau of Dubai, where he is responsible for the promotion and development of Dubai into one of the worlds’ leading destinations for business events. Prior to joining Dubai Business Events, Steen held a similar role as director of Copenhagen Convention Bureau for 8 years.

Steen is actively engaged in the global meeting industry. He served on the Board of Directors as 3rd Vice President of International Congress & Convention Association (ICCA) from 2008 - 2014.

He also served on the Board of Directors of Green Meeting Industry Council (GMIC). From 2003 – 2007, Steen was chair of BestCities Global Alliance and today he serves on the Board of Directors of BestCities Global Alliance.

Before joining the Copenhagen Convention Bureau, Steen worked for the Danish government at the Ministry of Economic and Business Affairs. Steen holds a Master degree in Commerce and Commercial Law from Copenhagen Business School and the University of Sheffield.

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John Donnelly

CEO, Edinburgh

Managing Director/CEO, with UK and pan European experience of driving both commercial and brand/sponsorship programmes, in addition to destination marketing.

Donnelly has lead integrated creative brand agencies with multi award winning strategies and activation campaigns creating a long term history of sustained gross and net profit growth, ahead of sector. He has strategic and creative abilities allied to excellent people motivational capabilities and significant experience of conceiving and delivering first in market, best in class campaigns on a national and pan European basis.

His current role is as Chief Executive of Marketing Edinburgh, the body responsible for promoting Edinburgh as an outstanding city in which to live, work, study, invest and visit. John has been in post since July 2013.

His most recent prior role was as Commercial Director of Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games with overall responsibility for all commercial revenue streams. The Games are widely regarded as the most commercially successful in the history of the Commonwealth, driving over £100M of commercial revenue.

Prior to this John carved out a career in marketing agencies in Edinburgh and London over a 20 year period as Managing Director at three : Euro RSCG KLP; The Marketing Store Worldwide; and bd ntwk. He was also a Board Director at the 500+ strong Iris, with billings of $100M.

In his career John has won over 40 awards, including MAA Agency of the year, and at his time at EURO RSCG KLP they were voted as agency of the decade in their discipline.

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John Solis

Vice President of Sales, Houston

John Solis joined the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau as vice president of sales in December 2010, after spending a year and a half consulting on sales strategy.

Solis retired from the San Antonio CVB as assistant executive director in 2008. During his tenure, he was involved in coordinating bids for citywide conventions and major events, including the 1996 NBA All-Star Weekend and the NCAA Men's and Women's Final Four Basketball Championships. His main responsibilities included managing the tactics and strategies related to marketing, public relations and the convention and tourism group sales and services efforts.

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Jeannie Lim

Head of Conventions, Singapore

Ms Jeannie Lim has led the Conventions, Meetings & Incentive Travel division of the Singapore Exhibition and Convention Bureau, a group under the Singapore Tourism Board, since 2011. In this role, she has been responsible for attracting quality association congresses and corporate-driven events to Singapore, and ensuring Singapore’s competitive positioning as a Top International Convention and Meetings City. She also champions the development of the local industry to strengthen Singapore’s position as a business events destination.

Jeannie was also concurrently Executive Director of the Exhibition & Conference Division from 2011 to 2013. Prior to this role, she served as Director, Tourism Concept Development where she oversaw the master-planning of new tourism zones such as Mandai and Jurong Lake, to ensure a steady pipeline of tourism developments. In this role, she was also co-chair of the Tourism Work Group under the Iskandar Malaysia Joint Ministerial Committee.

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Kazuko Toda

Conventions Director, Tokyo

Kazuko Toda joined the Business Events Team of the Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau (TCVB) in 2001. In 2004, she was appointed Director of the Team, and has been energetically working on promoting Tokyo as an international meeting destination. Her track record of numerous bid wins include the Annual Conference of the International Bar Association 2014, IWA World Water Congress 2018, and the 22nd International Congress of Nutrition in 2021.

Prior to joining TCVB, she was in charge of meeting management and operations at the largest travel agency in Japan. In the 30 years of experience in the meetings industry, she has worked on over 300 international meetings, blessing her with abundant experience and personal relationships within the hospitality industry. She also has experience in operating corporate meetings and incentives.

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Ty Speer

President and CEO, Vancouver

Ty has a strong background in sales and marketing and has held senior leadership positions in organizations with parallels to Tourism Vancouver – most notably in major sporting events such as the Olympic Games and the Commonwealth Games.

He brings a private-sector, international perspective with extensive experience working with boards of directors, multi-levels of government, corporate sponsors and media. His most recent role was Deputy CEO of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games where he led a commercial program that exceeded some $168 million in revenues. For the London 2012 Summer Olympic Games, his responsibilities included leading all client partnerships (55 sponsors) and managing commercial relationships with the British Olympic Association, the British Paralympic Association and various public sector partners such as Greater London Authority, Visit London and UK Sport.

Prior to his recent consecutive games’ experiences, Ty held senior positions with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the Melbourne Commonwealth Games and Octagon (formerly Advantage International).

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Karen Bolinger

CEO, Melbourne

Karen Bolinger joined the Melbourne Convention Bureau (MCB) as Chief Executive Officer in November 2011. Under her leadership, Melbourne has experienced its most successful years on record in terms of international association conferences held.

Karen has more than 20 years of industry experience. She has a strong background in strategic planning, sales and marketing across a diverse range of sectors, and has developed robust relationships within the business events industry on a global basis.

Prior to commencing her role at MCB, Karen was the General Manager of Strategy and Marketing at the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW (RAS) and in addition, she has also held various Executive roles at: Staging Connections Group Limited (SCVB); the Sydney Convention and Visitors Bureau; Sheraton on the Park, Sydney; and Renaissance Sydney Hotel.

Along with her role as Chair for the ICCA Australia Committee, Karen also sits on the board of Business Events Council of Australia (BECA) and the Victorian Advisory Board for Starlight Foundation.

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Paul Vallee

Managing Director

Paul Vallee is managing director of the BestCities Global Alliance. He is responsible for the successful delivery of the alliance's strategic plan, performance monitoring and overseeing its operations. Paul is also executive consultant with Gaining Edge, which in addition to managing BestCities, provides consulting exclusively to the convention and meetings market.

Paul recently assumed these responsibilities after serving more than 25 years in a senior capacity with Tourism Vancouver - the Metro Vancouver Convention and Visitors. Paul has served on the boards of BestCities, Destination Marketing Association International, the 2010 Winter Olympic Bid Marketing Committee, the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, and the Vancouver Convention Centre Expansion Task Force.

He is also a faculty member in international destination marketing at Capilano University.

Paul has a Master of Arts Degree from the University of Waterloo in Ontario that saw him specialize in travel attitudes and motivations.

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Jane Cunningham

Manager, Business Development

Based in Stockholm, Jane has been doing Business Development for BestCities Global Alliance since December 2009. Before joining the team Jane was the Sales Director for Congrex UK, an international professional conference organisation. Prior to that, she spent five years at the EICC (Edinburgh International Conference Centre) in Association Sales. Before returning to Scotland Jane worked in Dubai for Le Meridien Hotel as a Sales Manager.

Jane studied French, Italian and Tourism and after college she spent a number of years overseas working in the hospitality and tourism industry. She was an active member of ICCA and was on the ICCA UK & Ireland committee.

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Nigel Brown

Manager, Marketing & Partnerships

Nigel started his career at the head office of the International Congress & Convention Association (ICCA) in Amsterdam. He was part of the event organizing team of the association and served 7 years organizing a host of events on all continents. During his tenure he gained extensive project management skills and was responsible for implementing new technologies at ICCA events. Prior to joining the team Nigel worked as Project Manager for Singex Exhibition Ventures, the event organizing arm of the Singapore EXPO.

During his period at Singex he gained experience working on trade & consumer shows and conferences. This all-round experience has given him insights into both the client and supplier sides of the events industry.

Nigel holds a Bachelor of Hotel Administration, Bachelor of European Hospitality Management from the Hotelschool The Hague and a culinary diploma from the Amsterdam College of Hotel and Gastronomy.

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Caryn Wong

Associate, Alliance Operations

Based in Kuala Lumpur, Caryn joined the team as its Management Assistant in July 2012. She provides management support to the company's Corporate Office and also works closely with GainingEdge's Asian Office to build and manage its Asian clientele.

Prior to joining the team Caryn worked for one of Malaysia's leading destination management company and professional congress organiser where she served as a personal assistant to the Group Managing Director of Asian Overland Services Tours and Travel and AOS Conventions & Events for 14 years. Earlier in her career, Caryn has worked as a Secretary to the Owner/Accountant of a Malaysian based accounting firm, which later became internationally affiliated and provided administration support in a property development company.

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