America’s Best-Paid Tourism Marketers

Skift Take

Many tourism board CEOs command high compensation. Here’s Skift’s first major look at the pay packages U.S. destination marketing executives, looking at the city, state, and national levels.

Many American tourism marketers are well-paid. Visit California CEO Caroline Beteta recently collected more than $1.5 million in compensation. Brand USA CEO Chris Thompson recently took home over $700,000.

These were some of the findings when Skift reviewed the the pay for U.S. tourism marketers at city, state, and national levels. Here’s how we approached it:

  • We used the 2022 fiscal year because those records were the most comprehensively up-to-date.
  • We focused on the top 20 cities, based on those with the highest inbound visitation from overseas. Many are non-profits, and we were able to review their Form 990s filed with the IRS. In some cases, we got pay data from government agencies.
  • At the state level, we were interested in heavily touristed states with large, non-profit destination marketing organizations (DMOs), such as California, Hawaii, and Florida. We left out states like New York that didn’t have them.

Pay for High-Profile U.S. Tourism Marketers in Fiscal Year 2022

Tourism Promotion Organization CEO/ Executive/President Name Status in 2024 Fiscal Year 2022 Total Compensation
Visit California Caroline Beteta-Whitney Current $1,562,141
San Francisco Travel Association Joseph D’ Alessandro Former $964,880
Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau William Pate Current $945,410
Destination DC Elliott Ferguson Current $786,745
Brand USA Chris Thompson Outgoing $739,548
Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority Steve Hill Current $724,711
New Orleans and Company Stephen Perry Former $711,753
Destinations International Don Welsh Current $711,258
NYC Tourism + Conventions Fred Dixon Current $649,566
Visit Orlando Casandra Matej Current $568,027
Meet Boston Martha Sheridan Current $555,124
Visit Dallas Craig Davis Current $536,997
Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau John Monahan Former $506,425
Visit Tampa Bay Santiago Corrada Current $451,221
San Diego Tourism Authority Julie Coker Current $439,893
Visit Anaheim Jay Burress Former $420,708
Visit Philadelphia Jeffrey Guarancino Former $414,484
Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau Gregg Caren Current $371,704
Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board Adam Burke Current $399,696
Choose Chicago Lynn Osmond Former $340,111
Visit Lauderdale Stacy Ritter Current $337,228
Discover The Palm Beaches Jorge Pesquera Former $295,275
Visit Seattle Tammy Blount-Canavan Current $282,061
Visit Florida Dana Young Current $214,876
Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau David Whitaker Current $168,634
Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau William Talbert* Former $571,634*
Houston First Corp. Michael Heckman Current N/A**

Source: Official filings and Skift reporting. CauseIQ made it easier to find filings. The “total compensation” figure includes bonuses and non-taxable benefits, such as healthcare. *Miami’s William Talbert, a CEO for 16 years, was only a consultant in 2022. **Houston doesn’t disclose the pay of its tourism executives.

Some Smaller Destinations Offer Big Pay

Some tourism marketing executives had high compensation, but because of their city’s relatively small inbound international visitation, they didn’t make our above list.

Exhibit A: In Indianapolis, Visit Indy CEO and President Leonard Hoops made $921,470 and is under contract. Visit Indy’s executive committee has twice renewed his contract, most recently in 2018 with a 12-year extension.

“The Visit Indy Board Executive Committee decided years ago that it wanted Leonard to continue elevating Indy into a top national and international destination,” said Chris Gahl, Visit Indy executive vice president and chief marketing officer. “Leonard is regularly a target of recruiters for other CEO searches but the Visit Indy Board has proactively worked to ensure that Leonard will be in Indy for years to come.”

Destinations typically justify high pay packages based on performance.

Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp’s Christopher “Butch” Spyridon made $1,393,273 in fiscal year 2022 before his retirement last year. Spyridon led the organization for over three decades and has been credited for playing a big role in turning Nashville into one of America’s most-visited cities.

Factors in DMO Pay

There’s a gray area regarding how much of a destination’s performance is due to the CEO.

“It’s always hard to determine if the performance is based solely on the work of the CEO or the organization or whether that performance is just momentum,” said Greg Klassen, a former CEO of Destination Canada and senior director of Skift Advisory.

Pay is usually determined by the board of directors, which might consider performance indicators, such as hotel occupancy, visitor spending, overnight stays, and convention bookings.

“Any incentive beyond my base bonus was tied to the overall strategic plan and the KPIs against that plan,” said Don Welsh, who is currently the CEO and president of Destinations International and who recalls his experiences serving as the top boss at Visit Seattle, Choose Chicago, and Visit Indy.

Why Tourism Bosses Are Paid What They’re Paid

The scope of the organization’s size, the complexity of the destination, and the CEO’s expected economic impact are big influences on compensation, said Mike Gamble, president and CEO of SearchWide Global, an executive recruiting firm.

Different boards may also have different priorities. Some boards, for example, may place greater weight on resident sentiment and community relations.

“Between my current job and previous jobs, anywhere between 15 and 50 KPIs were used in my reviews, and those vary from one to the next,” said Brad Dean, CEO and president of Discover Puerto Rico.

Larger Organizations, Larger Challenges

Another factor in pay: State-level destination marketing organizations often come with oversight of massive budgets.

Exhibit A: Visit California’s Caroline Beteta earned $1,562,141 in the 2022 fiscal year. The state’s destination marketing organization received around $100 million in a one-time investment from its state government.

Beteta has been credited for helping California’s tourism and meeting industries recover from the pandemic.

In some states, how much those budgets can go toward executive pay is limited by organizational constraints. Visit Florida’s Dana Young made $214,876, but only up to $120,000 can come from state funds. “All amounts in excess of $120,000 are paid for with private (non-state) funds,” said Visit Florida’s page on executive compensation. Visit Florida is a public-private partnership.

Skift Advisory’s Klassen said the tourism board CEO position has become more complicated over the past decade. These executives must manage destination marketing and development, attract visitors and new investors, obtain funding to build hotels, convention facilities, attractions, and other tourism assets, and manage relations with politicians and residents.

“There’s a number of pretty charismatic CEOs who perhaps tried to convince their boards that they’re the reason why the performance is happening within their destination,” Klassen said.

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