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Debi Smith Heart For Hospitality Award

Honoring Henderson County’s Hospitality Heroes

An annual award first created in 2022, the Henderson County Tourism Development Authority (HCTDA) honors one person in the Henderson County tourism industry each year with the “Debi Smith Heart For Hospitality” Award. The award recipient must be someone who goes above and beyond to serve our visitors and the industry as a whole, and someone who has a true heart for hospitality — a calling to serve others.

This award is named after Debi Smith, a champion for hospitality in Henderson County. With an extensive background working in the tourism industry across Western NC, including hotels, the Biltmore, the SoCon Basketball Championships, multiple stints on the HCTDA Board, and more. The award was established as a way for the HCTDA Board Chair who followed Debi to both honor her achievements and recognize those like her, who work tirelessly in service of visitors and the tourism industry in Henderson County.

Watch the video below to learn more about Debi Smith, the award’s namesake, and to see what it means to be a recipient of this award. The first award was given out in February 2023, and past recipients are listed at the bottom of this page.

 Nominations are accepted each fall and the winner is announced each February at the annual Henderson County Tourism Conference. We encourage you to nominate someone who you believe deserves recognition for their passion to serve, their contributions to the Henderson County Tourism Industry and their Heart for Hospitality. Nominations for the 2024 “Debi Smith Heart For Hospitality”  

Past Award Recipients

2024 — Barbara Hughes, Narnia Studios

Barbara was nominated because of her love for Hendersonville, her desire to offer a unique shopping experience at her store in downtown Hendersonville, a collection of special events she organizes that embrace the arts, and her work to organize and build community with other business owners in the downtown area.

Barbara organizes the annual Chalk It Up temporary public art event in downtown Hendersonville, as well as the Tulip Extravaganza, (a celebration of the gorgeous blossoming tulips in downtown Hendersonville every spring) the Gingerbread Cookie Contest every December, and a Black History Month Essay Contest for local school children.

2023 — Mike Burnette, 1898 Waverly Inn

Mike was nominated because of his passion for serving the Henderson County Tourism industry. During his tenure on the HCTDA Board, Mike pushed the HCTDA staff and other board members to think outside the box, championed partnerships with and among various tourism entities, and always had the good of this community at the forefront of his mind.

But even more than his acts of service to the greater Tourism Industry in Henderson County, Mike was named “genuine, creative and innovative” by the person who nominated him for this award, and if you know him, you know he would love to take a break from whatever innkeeping responsibility he has going on to sit down with you, share a craft beer, and discuss just about anything you have on your mind, while listing to his vintage phonograph in the lobby of The Waverly Inn.

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