One of Missouri’s most successful and well-known entrepreneurs was among eight award recipients recently recognized for contributions to the state’s tourism industry.

During an awards gala at the 46th Missouri Governor’s Conference on Tourism, the Missouri Tourism Commission and Missouri Division of Tourism inducted John L. “Johnny” Morris, the founder of Bass Pro Shops, into the Missouri Tourism Hall of Fame.

The Hall of Fame award is tourism’s highest honor. It is given annually to someone who has supported and made outstanding contributions to Missouri’s tourism industry for at least 10 years, while leaving a lasting, positive impression on the state’s economy.

Morris, a Springfield native, was acknowledged not only for his commitment to conservation and the outdoors, but also for founding one of Missouri’s top tourism draws – Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World in Springfield – along with other attractions such as Wonders of Wildlife and Dogwood Canyon Nature Park.

Morris also was recognized for his work at Top of the Rock and Buffalo Ridge Springs golf courses, featured earlier this year during the first ever Big Cedar Lodge Legends of Golf tournament. That event, featuring players from the PGA’s Champions Tour, drew the likes of Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. The event was broadcast worldwide on the Golf Channel, brought in travelers from around the country and pumped millions of dollars into Missouri’s economy.

Tracy Kimberlin, president of the Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau said the honor was well deserved.

“In my view, few if any have done more for the travel industry in the state than Johnny Morris,” Kimberlin said.

Others honored at the gala Oct. 8 at the Renaissance Airport Hotel in St. Louis were:

  • Missouri Rep. Anne Zerr was honored with the Emory Melton Legislative Award, presented annually to a legislator or tourism industry leader who works closely with the legislative process in support of the tourism industry. Among her duties, Zerr chairs the House Economic Development Committee and serves on the House Tourism and Natural Resources Committee. She is a staunch supporter of tourism and is acknowledged for working with members of both the House and Senate to help restore tourism funding to pre-recession levels.

  • Missouri Star Quilt Company, Hamilton, earned the Marketing Award, given for effective integrated marketing campaigns. Missouri Star’s marketing efforts have led to a 325 percent increase in their customer base and a 240 percent increase in staff. Additionally, the business’ social media outreach helped it amass 125,000 followers on Facebook and more than 30 million views on YouTube; it’s also drawn the attention of national media outlets such as the NBC Nightly News and the Wall Street Journal.

  • The Navigator Award was presented to Travel Planners Radio Show, featuring Kevin and Sue McCarthy, St. Louis. The award is given annually to the outlet whose efforts promote tourism by telling stories that shine a positive light on the Show-Me State’s tourism assets and destinations. The Travel Planners show reaches some 2 million listeners each week.

  • Dr. Robert Vartabedian and the Walter Cronkite Memorial at Missouri Western University, St. Joseph, won the Spotlight Award, presented to a business or individual not usually considered part of the tourism industry. Vartabedian and his staff were honored for creating the Walter Cronkite Memorial, which preserves the legacy of the St. Joseph born newsman known to many as “the most trusted man in America.” The memorial includes exhibits on Cronkite’s life and features recordings of famous broadcasts.

  • The Pathfinder Award went to the Gateway Arch Marketing Bi-State Development Agency, St. Louis. The award honors marketers who aim for and successfully reach niche markets. The Development Agency’s niche-marketing endeavors included hosting River City Music Days, which drew in young travelers from Chicago, Louisville and Omaha, and creating unique wedding experiences by incorporating the Gateway Arch Riverboat cruises into couples’ big day.

  • The Missouri Wine and Grape Board’s Marketing Director, Danene Beedle, was presented with the Ambassador Award, which acknowledges individuals who support tourism initiatives and bring publicity to attractions across the state. While working to promote Missouri wineries and wine trails, Beedle never misses an opportunity to showcase tourism assets and to educate visitors about everything the Show-Me State has to offer.

  • The Innovator Award was given to the Newton County Tourism Council. The Innovator Award is presented to smaller tourism entities that achieve great results. One of the Tourism Council’s many accomplishments is raising more than $175,000 to produce murals that depict the beauty and history of their area, including its ties to famous Missouri artist Thomas Hart Benton.

The Missouri Governor’s Conference on Tourism features educational workshops and noted guest speakers who address a variety of topics related to the tourism industry. More than 200 people attended the event in St. Louis.