Visit Philadelphia names 1st Black woman as president/CEO

According to Angela Val, she might be the first Black woman to lead the non-profit tourism group, but she doesn’t expect to be the last.

Visit Philadelphia President and CEO Angela Val. (Courtesy of Cashman & Associates)

Visit Philadelphia President and CEO Angela Val. (Courtesy of Cashman & Associates)

This story originally appeared in The Philadelphia Tribune

Longtime city tourism executive Angela Val was named Thursday by Visit Philadelphia’s board of directors as the first Black female president and CEO of the group, that spearheads efforts to bring tourist dollars to the city.

“After a comprehensive executive search, Angela became the clear choice for the type of leader who will strategically drive the organization and city to new heights,” said Manuel N. Stamatakis, chair of Visit Philadelphia’s Board of Directors.

“When I arrived in Philadelphia 31 years ago as an undergraduate at Drexel University, I would have never imagined this city’s impact on me and my career,” Val said. “It is my chosen home, and I am thrilled to return to Visit Philadelphia as president and CEO so I can give back to a city and organization that has given me so much. As we continue to emerge from the pandemic, I look forward to working with our partners to build back the tourism industry, reinvigorate the economy and restore the vibrancy of Philadelphia, which is so essential to attracting leisure travelers.”

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To be sure, tourism is big business in Philadelphia, generating $12 billion in 2019 and accounting for more than 105,000 jobs, according to the latest figures available.

But it is not without challenges, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, which has severely hurt the industry and out-of-control gun violence that has devastated the city and damaged its image and brand.

“I think we have to be part of the solution. I think a lot of times in our industry, what we might call quality of life issues do impact what we do every day,” said Val in an interview with The Philadelphia Tribune. “What has to change now is that hospitality in general, not just Visit Philadelphia, has to be part of that solution. Nothing can be done in Philadelphia unless it’s clean and safe.”

Val’s supporters said she is up for the challenge.

“She’s been a part of the hospitality and tourism industry in Philadelphia for her entire career,” said Alison Grove, principal of Grimm & Grove Communications, based in the city. “She’s seen it through a lot, including 911 and COVID and the ups and downs of our city. I think she is really well-known and well-trusted by all of the various tourism and hospitality organizations. That’s going to be one of the keys in getting the industry back on its feet, getting everyone to work together.”

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Grove, whose firm works extensively in tourism, has known and worked with Val for about 20 years, in several capacities on some of the city’s biggest tourism projects: the Republican National Convention in 2000; Pope Francis’ visit in 2015; the Democratic National Convention in 2016; and the National Football League Draft in 2017.

Edward G. Rendell, former two-term governor of Pennsylvania and mayor of Philadelphia, said Val was the best person for the job.

“She knows the job well and can hit the ground running. Head over heels it’s Angela Val. No question about it. I have real confidence in her,” Rendell said. “This is a good thing for Philadelphia. She will do a good job promoting the city.”

It was Rendell who sought out Val to oversee operations at the DNC, when he was national chairman of the convention committee in 2016.

“We needed someone to be chief operating officer. I reached out to Angela because I thought highly of her and persuaded her to come on as No. 2,” Rendell said. “She just did a tremendous job. She was the reason we were so successful. The convention didn’t elect Hilary Clinton president, but as a convention it was wonderfully run with no major slip-ups. We achieved all of our goals and Angela was spectacular at what she did.”

Mayor Jim Kenney said Val is a terrific choice to succeed Jeff Guaracino as Visit Philadelphia’s president and CEO. Guaracino, 48, died  Dec, 28, 2021, after a fight with cancer.

“With her deep knowledge of the tourism industry and extensive experience promoting our great city,” Kenney said. “I know she will continue to build upon his legacy of innovation and inclusiveness. Having worked closely with Angela in her roles at the 2016 DNC Host Committee, PHLCVB and Ready.Set.Philly! I’ve seen her passion for Philadelphia firsthand.”

For her part, Val worked for almost 17 years at Visit Philadelphia, a non-profit, which is funded mainly by Philadelphia County’s hotel taxes; the DNC National Committee and the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau, which is charged with attracting conventions and meetings to the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Val is chief operating officer at Tempest, a for-profit company in Philadelphia, which creates websites and other marketing materials for destination cities and states, throughout the U.S.

Nevertheless, Val said she intends to take it slow when handed the reins to the non-profit group June 27.

“What I’d first like to do is go on a listening tour and meet with the staff, the board and those folks involved in our industries, such as the hotels, retail shops, business and community leaders to make sure that whatever vision and long-term goals that we have, we’ve built it on a foundation of collaboration,” Val said. “I think it’s a little too soon right now to say what those long-term goals will be. In the short term, I’m really looking to make sure that there is a seamless transition and settle into that role.”

So, she’ll be able to report back in a couple of months, she said.

According to Val, her management style is collaborative.

“I am someone who one leads with empathy,” Val said. “I am a big believer in the ‘we’ and want to make sure that the work that we are doing as Visit Philly, as a tourism industry for the city of Philadelphia, we are doing that together because I believe we are stronger together.”

Her longtime friend and colleague, Grove, of Grimm & Grove Communications, agreed.

“Most recently with the World Cup, when Angela was employed at the convention and visitors bureau, she was helping to bring together the Sports Congress, the city and us as external consultants to organize. She really looked ahead and saw that this was a big job and organized around it and then COVID hit and the bureau was facing layoffs and extreme challenges and Angela stepped in while dealing with internal issues like managing staff and budgets, but she kept the bid going seeing how important it was the city and tourism.”

Philadelphia is bidding for the World Cup in 2026, the biggest and most famous international soccer championship. An announcement on the winning city is expected in June.

Grove and Val reflected on her becoming the first Black woman to lead Visit Philadelphia.

“I think she is uniquely qualified for the job because of her experience,” Grove said. “I think is great for the city to have another female leader, another Black leader, someone in leadership who represents the diversity of this city. It is certainly a bonus,” Grove said. “I think that everybody who works in the tourism industry in our region is felling a great sense of confidence, collaboration and excitement, when we think about Angela in control.”

According to Val, she might be the first Black woman to lead the non-profit tourism group, but she doesn’t expect to be the last.

“Now that I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit, I hope people that look like me will take from this, is go for the opportunity when they have the chance,” Val said. “Visit Philadelphia will continue, as they have been really great at, to promote Black and brown businesses and their story not just in one campaign, but in every thread every day.”

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