2024 Symposium Speakers

2024 Symposium Speakers

The Symposium will be a day of information sharing, learning and connection and a great opportunity to absorb new information, insights, and ideas. Join us and hear from business and tourism experts who’ll challenge your perspective and perceptions!

Your speaker lineup includes:


Darrell Wade

Darrell Wade is a globally recognised entrepreneur and responsible tourism pioneer. He was one of the first group of Australians to complete Climate Project training with Al Gore and was an early advocate of sustainable tourism and believes travel can be a force for good.

He led Intrepid towards achieving many industry firsts, including becoming the first to become carbon neutral in 2010, the world’s largest travel company to achieve B Corp certification in 2018, and the first global tour operator to commit to science-based carbon reduction targets in 2020.

Intrepid and Darrell’s leadership has inspired and supported the industry to make meaningful strides towards a more equitable and sustainable future for travel. Darrell champions sustainable, experience-rich travel and in this opening segment, we will explore the notion of creating world class experiences sustainably.

A backpacker with a vision, Darrell co-founded Intrepid with his mate Geoff ‘Manch’ Manchester in 1989. Their vision was simple: to offer a new style of low-impact travel that connected travellers with communities.

Today, Darrell is regarded as one of travel’s most influential leaders and he plays an instrumental role in advancing the industry’s sustainability agenda through his activism and philanthropy, and also serves as Chair of the Intrepid Foundation.

Return to the program page


Michael Thurston

This session will review the region’s performance over the last 12 months, delivery of projects during this period, and DNC’s forward vision for the North Coast visitor economy. Michael will speak to the importance of creating world class experiences to meet the shifting demographic landscape, evolving trends and consumer expectations.

As the General Manager at Destination North Coast for the past five years, Michael brings over 27 years of tourism industry experience to the role. He has extensive experience in the commercial and destination management sectors having worked for Destination Gold Coast, STA Travel, Thomas Cook UK, Insider Journeys and as an owner of Lennox Head Holiday Rentals.

Return to the program page


Nick Baker

In this WILD AT HEART keynote, Nick Baker, CEO Reflections Holidays, will unpack how a Crown Land Manager juggles its commitment to community, sustainability, and corporate citizenship with the romance of adventure tourism.

Nick joined Reflections Holidays in July 2021. He is an experienced CEO in the tourism and visitor experience sector, having led TripTech/CamperMate and RedBalloon. His vision is for Reflections Holidays to become Australia’s leading nature-driven escapes organisation and to share nature’s playground with its guests in a way that gives back to the communities of NSW.

Nick’s love of food, wine and nature will surely come to the fore when he addresses the Symposium theme, Creating World Class Experiences.

Return to the program page


Libby Lincoln

With a Masters of Fine Arts in Cultural Leadership through NiDA and currently co-leading NORPA – Northern Rivers Performing Arts, Libby Lincoln is well-versed on the intersection of the Arts and Creative Industries and tourism and the visitor economy. In this session, titled Creativity meets the visitor economy, she’ll draw on her extensive career in festivals, events, venues and city building to really delve into the mechanics of what is required to successfully build world class cultural tourism for the North Coast and NSW more broadly.

Libby has undertaken leadership roles in producing and curating major cultural projects and managing diverse arts organisations for the past 32 years; and is considered one of the most experienced arts leaders in Australia. 

In her roles of CEO, Executive Director, Program Director; Executive Producer and General Manager, Libby has been instrumental in strategic and operational frameworks to propel artistic organisations forward.  She has curated and implemented a range of artistic projects from international collaborations and commissions; to large-scale community projects; to initiatives that develop and profile local artists and arts organisations.  

Partnerships, artistic exchange and collaborations have been a major theme throughout her career.  Within her festival roles, she has also led the development and presentation of platforms like the Australian International Music Market; as well as the ground-breaking Earth Dialogues Forum – Natural Resource Management chaired by Mikhail Gorbachev in 2006.

In November 2022 she was appointed as Executive Director of NORPA – Northern Rivers Performing Arts and is now co-leading the company in its recovery and rediscovery of its role as a theatre maker.

Return to the program page


Timmy Maxwell

Tim Maxwell has been committed to the sustainable growth and awareness of Lord Howe Island for the past eight years. Alongside his father, he conceptualised, designed, and decorated Island House, a high-end private lodge tailored for small groups with adaptive service models.

In addition to the lodge, Tim co-created the Lord Howe Island Brewery, a community hub nestled among beautiful glasshouses that grow produce and endemic ingredients. The brewery prides itself on collaborating with other businesses to create a vibrant visitor experience.

In recent years, Tim has volunteered his time on the Lord Howe Island Tourism Committee, working with local businesses to raise awareness of the island, a place cherished by all who call it home.

Return to the program page


Ian Hutton

After 40 years exploring, photographing, recording, researching and running nature tours on Lord Howe Island, Ian Hutton has assumed the title of Lord Howe Island Naturalist. He has written 12 books on the Island and contributed to over 50 science papers on its flora and fauna. Ian has lectured on Lord Howe Island and its conservation programs around the world, from Hawaii to Azores, London to New York.

In 2002 he was awarded Gourmet Travellers award for Innovation in Tourism for development of his in-depth daily nature tours; in 2006 he was awarded the OAM for service to conservation and tourism for setting up the Weeding Ecotours, one of Australis longest running ecotour programs with 96 weeks between 1995 and 2024; in 2020 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Environmental Sciences from Southern Cross university.

Ian sits on several Advisory Boards for management of Lord Howe Island, and the Lord Howe Island Tourism Association.

Return to the program page


Ann Walton

As Team Leader Visitor Experience for North Coast Branch of National Parks, Ann Walton will be well known to many. She will join our panel session to discuss how the Dorrigo Arc Rainforest Centre and 4-Day Dorrigo Escarpment Walk and being built in response to increased demand for sustainable nature-based experiences and to provide enhanced access to World Heritage Gondwana Rainforest.

Ann has been Team Leader Visitor Experience for North Coast Branch of National parks for past 7 years but prior to this a Parks Ranger for 20 years.

The role of Team Leader Visitor Experience is a broad and exciting role with the honour of working with committed teams at Sea Acres Rainforest Centre and Dorrigo Rainforest Centre, the Ranger guided program, tourism partners and stakeholders and to work on visitor facilities across the North Coast from multi-day walks, campgrounds, picnic areas to new visitor Centres.

The Dorrigo Project is one such major visitor infrastructure project that Ann has been involved in for its inception.

Return to the program page


Peta Alexopoulos and Belinda Johnson

10 Minutes of Wellness – By incorporating mindful movement, breathing exercises, and a calming video backdrop, this 10-minute session aims to promote a sense of inner peace and positive energy to carry delegates through into the afternoon’s sessions.

Positive Energy Adventures & Retreats, co-founded by Peta Alexopoulos and Belinda Johnson, offers transformative experiences in stunning natural landscapes, including multi-day hiking and wellness retreats across the Mid-North Coast of NSW.

Peta Alexopoulos, leveraging her Bachelor of Economics from Sydney University, transitioned from corporate leadership to becoming a passionate wellness advocate and community event leader. Her extensive local network ensures that each retreat offers a seamless journey enriched with profound wellness insights. Belinda Johnson brings over 25 years of experience as an allied health care worker, body specialist, coach, and former athlete, offering invaluable expertise in body mechanics and coaching for physical wellness and performance enhancement.

Together, Peta and Belinda curate exceptional retreat experiences that nurture holistic well-being and personal growth, fostering a deep connection with the local environment, community, and cultural heritage. Expanding their offerings to include Lord Howe Island in 2025, their Swim, Hike, and Wellness retreat is nearly sold out, reflecting the growing demand for transformative wellness tourism experiences.

Return to the program page


Steve Cox

Steve Cox is the CEO of Destination NSW, the NSW Government’s tourism and major events agency. Steve is a passionate and energetic champion for Sydney and regional NSW. He drives the strategic direction of Destination NSW to ensure NSW is the premier visitor economy of the Asia Pacific by 2030. 

Steve is also a Director on the Boards of Business Events Sydney (BESydney) and the Australian Tourism Data Warehouse, and a member of the Australia Day Council of NSW.

Return to the program page


Dominic Mehling

With over two decades of experience in the tourism sector in both Australia and New Zealand, Dominic leads Tourism Australia’s team providing the primary link between the Australian tourism industry and the Government agency responsible for promoting Australia globally.

With a background in hotel and resort sales and marketing with brands including ‘Hayman Island’, ‘One&Only Resorts’, and ‘Atlantis’, Dominic has also held roles in front-of-house hotel operations with Langham, Accor, and Westin.

Return to the program page