Visit Philadelphia’s new CEO says safety and ‘vibrancy’ of city are priorities

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Starting next month, Angela Val, a 17-year veteran of Visit Philadelphia, will return as the tourism group’s new president and CEO, as the city continues to recover hotel business lost during the pandemic.

Val is the nonprofit’s third chief executive since its founding in 1996, and its first chief executive who is black.

“We’re competing with destinations across this country,” Val said Friday in a phone interview. “I think it’s more competitive than ever. And we’re all doing a lot more with a little less than we had before the pandemic. »

The top job has been vacant since the death of former CEO Jeff Guaracino, who had battled cancer, in December. Guaracino took over in 2018 from the organization’s first CEO, Meryl Levitz.

Val worked at Visit Philly for 17 years under Levitz’s tenure, from 1998 to 2015, rising from executive assistant and receptionist to director of external affairs. She then became deputy executive director of the Philadelphia host committee for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, then served for nearly five years as administrative director of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau, until last June.

“Having worked closely with Angela … I have seen her passion for Philadelphia firsthand,” Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement. “I am confident that his commitment to collaboration and his ability to develop strategic initiatives will further position Philadelphia for a strong tourism rebound from the pandemic and create exciting new opportunities.”

Within the next month, Val will be finishing her current role as COO of Tempest, a digital marketing agency. During the pandemic, she also led the economic reopening initiative Ready.Set.Philly!, a collaboration between the city and the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.

The initiative responded to physical security concerns in the city, Val said, and this area will continue to be a priority for her at Visit Philly.

“I think that’s the very base that we have to deal with first,” Val said. “It doesn’t matter whether you come here for work, whether you are a visitor, whether you are moving here or a resident. Everyone wants the city to be safe and clean.

As people continue to emerge from the pandemic, attracting “more vibrancy” to the city center is also important, she said.

“No one wants to visit a city that has no one downtown.”

Visit Philly currently has a “very local” media and advertising buy, she noted, to encourage people to go out for lunch, walk around and enjoy happy hour after work “so that the vibrancy starts to to come back”.

Changing travel trends – such as flexible and remote working arrangements and people’s focus on wellness – will also affect how the city is marketed to tourists, a- she declared.

Val’s plans for Visit Philly include working more closely with the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau, especially as the city faces stiff competition from nationwide destinations vying for business in the pandemic recovery.

Philadelphia is unusual among large cities for having two destination marketing organizations overseeing different segments of the tourism market, instead of one unified group.

While Visit Philly promotes leisure tourism, the Convention and Visitors Bureau strives to attract business groups, as well as international tourists. Both groups derive their funding from the municipal tax on hotel rooms.

“What’s unique about me is that I’ve worked in both. I know both organizations,” Val said. “I see that in the future we will be working much more collaboratively on many initiatives.”

Val grew up in Maryland and moved to Philadelphia over 30 years ago to attend Drexel University, where she studied hospitality management.

She called her new role at Visit Philly a “dream job”.

“This is an opportunity for me to give back to a city and an organization that I feel has given me so much,” Val said. “I am truly excited to be working, not just with Visit Philadelphia, but with all of our partners as we look to 2026,” the 250th anniversary of the founding of the nation.

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