By Ellen M. Heffes
Visit Orlando is a d/b/a for Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau Inc., whose purpose is to sell and market the Orlando area to leisure and meetings visitors for the economic benefit of the community.
Headquarters: Orlando, Fla.
Recent Revenue: $50 million
Number of Employees: 175
THE FINANCIAL EXECUTIVE
How Long in Current Role: 17 years
Professional Summary: I graduated from Auburn University and spent the first decades of my professional life in public accounting, working with Arthur Andersen & Co. As a senior manager, I focused on banking and construction clients here in Orlando. I subsequently had chief financial officer positions with publishing and high-tech companies. I originally came to Visit Orlando on a consulting engagement, but liked it and stayed.
At Visit Orlando, my focus is a balance between providing business support for each of our many sales and marketing disciplines, while helping ensure we execute our sales and marketing programs in an effective and fiscally-sound manner.
What about this organization sparked your interest to join?
Working at Visit orlando is quite different than any other financial role I have encountered. I love the ever-changing environment and working with our tremendous sales and marketing talent is always exciting — and sometimes challenging)!
How did the organization get started?
As Orlando expanded its presence in the leisure travel market with the opening of its world-renowned theme parks in the 1970s and ‘80s, and then entered into the meetings and conventions market in the 1980s with the opening of the Orange County Convention Center, an organization was needed to coordinate the sales and marketing efforts of the destination as a whole. Visit Orlando fills that role.
Visit Orlando was formed as a membership-based, not-for-profit entity, with a contract with Orange County, Fla., to utilize tourist development tax (lodging tax) funds to sustain and expand visitation to the destination.
The organization has had just two CEOs since its inception. Bill Peeper formed the organization on behalf of the industry and served as president/CEO for 23 years. Gary Sain took over the reins in 2007. Both men are dynamic leaders and have been successful in evolving the organization to meet the changing needs of Orlando as a growing international tourist destination.
How has the business model changed?
As the Orlando area has evolved into a leader in the travel industry, so has Visit Orlando.
The sophistication and complexity of our fully-integrated marketing programs have continued to increase as we find creative ways to maximize the impact of marketing dollars available.
In roughly a 30-year period, we have evolved from a small visitor destination with a fledgling business/meeting presence to a global leader in both leisure and convention markets. We now represent more than 1,200 private businesses that make up the area's tourism industry.
What are some of the current challenges?
Competition, competition, competition.
As the world expands its understanding that tourism is a significant economic driver, destinations everywhere are getting into the mix.
Global destinations such as Australia and Spain spend many multiples of what the United States currently has available for marketing tourism. Thus, domestic and global competition is fierce, and other countries are capturing greater global market share.
What are some significant events in the organization’s evolution?
Visit Orlando is fortunate to represent such a dynamic destination. Our partners have continued to evolve and reinvent themselves, constantly providing new opportunities and infrastructure to thrill leisure visitors and satisfy business meetings and convention needs.
In what areas do you seek to expand?
There’s always a need for additional funding to remain competitive. And, as future funding grows, Visit Orlando as an organization will probably not grow much more in number of employees but rather in the type and size of programs it executes.
Where are the growth opportunities?
The primary growth potential is from international visitation. For example, South American visitation has grown significantly in recent years.
Developing markets such as China and India have huge populations that are starting to travel more.
So, we need to both protect our current domestic base while we focus on expanding our international market share.
Who/what are your chief competitors?
The global hospitality market is extremely competitive. As the premier family destination in the world, Orlando not only competes with strong domestic destinations such as New York, San Francisco, Las Vegas and Chicago, but also global destinations such Paris, Spain, Australia and Dubai.
Are you hiring now, and for which jobs?
Yes, primarily sales and marketing positions, as turnover requires.