Rain and wind definitely blanketed the peninsula with a chill on Saturday. But inside the Kenai Senior Center, where the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council was hosting its annual regional tourism conference, the air was charged with heated inspiration, warm camaraderie and some spicy cooking.
The conference kicked off Friday night with a "Kenai: Cajun Style" theme, complete with a wide sampling of foods. Some were flown in for the event, some were cooked locally by Chocolate Lily Catering, under the guiding eye of KPTMC Executive Director Faron Owen.
"We just wanted to have something this year that was fun," Owen said of the theme.
The idea drew a record 160 reservations for Saturday's banquet, but organizers were prepared for as many as 200, according to Autumn Eagle, the council's member services manager and event coordinator.
"A lot of people said they'd just show up," Eagle said.
Colorful posters, brochures and representatives from local, as well as Anchorage businesses, attracted interest along the windowed wall at the senior center.
"We're here to meet people and develop relationships," said Dave Smith, general manager for Puffin Hotels of Anchorage. Smith said this is the first year his business has participated in the conference.
Jack Dalton, marketing and public relations coordinator for the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage, said it was the first time he had attended KPTMC's annual event.
"I think the reason we have more people attending this year is because of the location," Owen said. Typically, the conference rotates between locations on the peninsula.
Saturday morning's schedule offered a variety of educational sessions.
Marvin Super, of Printworks and Super Software of Homer, chose a condensed mission at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska.
"It was excellent," Super said of the 15-member crew's challenge to successfully complete a three-hour mission in one hour.
Julie Tauriainen, executive director for the Seward Chamber of Commerce, took part in a session on leadership that was led by Jay Rifenbary, who was also the conference keynote speaker.
"His approach to personality types and how to keep them motivated was very funny," Tauriainen said. "He definitely kept us interested."
Tom and Linda Sullivan, owners of Tom's Cabin and Guide Service in Soldotna, participated in a session entitled "Closing the Sale."
"We learned some skills that we'll definitely be using," Tom Sullivan said.
After a lunch of jambalaya and seafood gumbo, Owen introduced Rifenbary, describing him as "full of energy and passionate about what he does."
"Not every speaker has that glint in his eye that says, 'I've lived this,'" Owen said.
Rifenbary is the president of the Rifenbary Training and Development Center in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., author of the international best seller "No Excuse! -- I'm Doing It", and a professional speaker, trainer and consultant. His list of references includes General Electric, the United States Postal Service and the United States Army, to name a few.
He wove words like "values," "ethics," and "principles" around personal experience, drawing laughter and applause from the audience.
Rifenbary stressed the importance accountability and integrity play in defining and achieving success.
Describing his first attempt to parachute, when twisted lines kept the chute from inflating, Rifenbary graphically impressed the need to learn from challenges, rather than casting blame, whining or finding excuses.
"Every success principle you ever heard all boiled down to accountability," said Rifenbary, extending the meaning of success to include personal as well as professional.
He drew his presentation to a close by sharing a moment in his life when the importance of accountability and personal choice became crystal clear.
"Do I still struggle with it?" Rifenbary said. "Yes. Every day."
This was the first trip to Alaska for Rifenbary and his wife, Loni. After the conference, they will spend several days on the peninsula, traveling to Homer and Seward, before returning to their home in Saratoga Springs.
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