Tourism Professional Donna Cordle-Gray Passes Away Unexpectedly: “Missouri’s tourism family is dealing with the loss of a long-time leader and friend, Donna Cordle-Gray, who passed away unexpectedly on Christmas Day,” said Beth Mead, president of the Missouri Travel Alliance’s board of directors, noting that “Missouri’s travel industry has lost one of its true champions and the Missouri Travel Alliance has lost one of its dearest friends. On behalf of all of our board, our members and staff, we extend our deepest condolences to Donna’s family and numerous friends.”
Over her 30 years in Missouri’s tourism industry Donna not only played an integral role in developing Missouri as a domestic and international group travel destination, but she also served as a mentor to travel professionals throughout the state and was widely recognized as an expert in group travel marketing. Her efforts were recognized in 2017 when she was inducted into the Missouri Tourism Hall of Fame.
“Donna was a true professional, and she was highly respected in the industry for both her knowledge and commitment to Missouri tourism,” said long-time friend Renee Eichelberger, director of leisure travel sales for the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission. “Anyone working in the group travel industry has benefited from the knowledge which she shared freely, and she helped Missouri mold its reputation as a top travel destination. She impacted the lives of so many. It was a pleasure to know and work with her, and she will truly be missed. We have lost one of the best.”
Donna began her career in the late 1980s as director of sales for the Park Place Hotel, later moving to Station Casino (now Ameristar) where she was instrumental in developing the casino’s marketing plan. In 1997, she was contracted by the Missouri Division of Tourism to coordinate the state’s group travel marketing efforts, a program she continued to manage. She also crafted an international identity for Missouri that is still recognized today.
In addition to building Missouri’s group travel identity, Donna created the Missouri Bank Travel Exchange (MBTE) on behalf of Missouri Travel Council in 2007, offering Missouri destinations, attractions and lodging suppliers with a cost-effective opportunity to market directly to travel club directors from Missouri and neighboring states.
“She taught all of us so much,” said another long-time friend, Glenda Kerr, who took over MBTE management when Donna stepped back following the event’s 10th anniversary in 2016. “She was there for me professionally and personally anytime I needed her, and I know there are countless others who can say the same thing. We will miss her.”
Donna was elected president of the Missouri Travel Council in 1998 and chaired and served on numerous state and regional travel industry committees. She was instrumental in creating Grand Central USA, a four-state marketing organization that focused on attracting niche markets to the partner states of Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Kansas.