If there’s a road less traveled, Jeff Guaracino probably traversed it more than once.
The seasoned tourism expert — who also wrote a travel column for this newspaper — is setting out to conquer new vistas in a place he knows well: Philly.
Guaracino, the new president and CEO of tourism-promotion agency Visit Philadelphia, also happens to be LGBT. And he wants to give the community a seat at the table.
His strategy for inclusiveness, he said, would “bring the community to the boardroom and into marketing campaigns.”
The agency’s board of directors announced Guaracino’s appointment earlier this month. The nonprofit organization promotes leisure travel to the five-county Philadelphia region — something for which the new leader is abundantly qualified.
First, he has to wrap up his nearly three-year stint as head of Welcome America!, the city’s free multi-day, multi-event July 4 celebration. When he takes the helm of Visit Philadelphia next month, it will be a sort of homecoming for the city native: He worked at the agency for more than a decade in various leadership roles earlier in the millennium.
“I’ve always had my eye on this job. As a native Philadelphian, it’s such an exciting time to come here and to be a part of Philadelphia’s storytelling. Visit Philadelphia has been committed to diversity and inclusion across every single group of people,” Guaracino said.
“Being able to launch the groundbreaking ‘Get your history straight and your nightlife gay’ campaign was, and is still, the most successful campaign in the world.”
He also worked on the organization’s other signature marketing campaigns, including “Philly’s More Fun When You Sleep Over,” “With Love, Philadelphia XOXO,” “With Art Philadelphia” and “Philly Homegrown.”
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the City of Philadelphia and Pew Charitable Trusts founded the agency, formally known as the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation, in 1996. Guaracino succeeds Meryl Levitz, the founding president and CEO, who announced in January that she planned to leave the position.
“I’m delighted that Guaracino has been selected to lead the talented team at Visit Philadelphia,” Levitz said in a press release. “Jeff’s experience in destination marketing is proven, and I have the utmost confidence that with him leading our skilled staff, Visit Philadelphia will continue to produce record-breaking room nights, great stories and an outstanding quality of life and economic benefits for those who live, work and play in Philadelphia.”
Guaracino said his first priority is to keep the momentum going. Last year, the tourism organization contributed to more than 1-million leisure hotel-room nights being booked in Center City — setting a record for visitation. This is up from the 250,000 rooms booked in 1997, when the agency began marketing the city as a destination.
The tourism guru said he’ll use his Welcome America! experience to continue the successes of Visit Philadelphia.
“Welcome America! is coming off of a record year. We had deals with Comcast, NBC Universal, Live Nation and global companies. I understand the challenge of the job ahead to keep momentum, to keep hotel-room nights coming and to keep visitors coming back. It’s an extraordinary opportunity to be able to tell the world just how great Philadelphia is.”