It’s hard to believe now, but in 1971 when Meryl Levitz moved to Philadelphia from Chicago, the City of Philadelphia was a place people stopped by to check out the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall while en route to another destination.
From her first days in Philadelphia, Levitz saw her new hometown’s promise. And in 1996, Philadelphia’s mayor (Ed Rendell), Pennsylvania’s governor (Tom Ridge) and the president and CEO of The Pew Charitable Trusts (Rebecca Rimel) came together to test the region’s potential as a vibrant visitor destination. They launched an effort to find leadership for a grant-funded, three-year experiment: the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation, known today as VISIT PHILADELPHIA.
The search led them to Levitz, who, in 1996, became the founding president and CEO of VISIT PHILADELPHIA. At the time, many thought she was taking on an impossible task—to get people to visit Philly for fun, to change how Philadelphians talked about their home and to build the image of what was essentially a new product: Philadelphia. Although Philadelphia was late to the marketing game, Levitz accepted the challenge and by 1999—with the help of city and state legislators and the city’s hoteliers—secured permanent funding that came from an increased hotel tax.
In 2017 alone, the region welcomed a record 43.3 million U.S. visitors—88% of whom visited for leisure purposes.
Under her leadership, Philadelphia and the surrounding Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties have become a top-rated travel destination. VISIT PHILADELPHIA created a new market for Philadelphia—people who choose to visit the city for pleasure—and developed that market into an important revenue generator for the entire five-county region. In 2017 alone, the region welcomed a record 43.3 million U.S. visitors—88% of whom visited for leisure purposes—and the industry generated $11.5 billion in economic impact.
Philly is now seen as a fun place with so much to see and do, but Levitz has worked for more than four decades to help others realize that. In 1978, she co-founded the Center City Proprietors Association. Later, as the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau’s director of tourism, she oversaw the opening of the Great Plaza at Penn’s Landing in 1986 and developed annual celebrations, including Jambalaya Jam, River Blues and Yo! Philadelphia. In 1991, Levitz led the charge to bring the first-ever fireworks celebration to the Delaware River for New Year’s Eve—a tradition that lives on today. She also co-directed the opening of the Pennsylvania Convention Center in 1993 and the Reading Terminal Trainshed in 1994.
As a champion for the Philadelphia region and the travel industry, Levitz has been honored with Philadelphia magazine’s 2018 Trailblazer Award, SmartCEO’s Brava Award and the Woman of Spirit Award from the MS Society. She has also appeared on City & State PA’s Power 100, the Philadelphia Business Journal’s Power 76, Skift’s World’s Top Travel Marketers and other lists. In May 2018, she received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Temple University for her extraordinary professional accomplishments, strong civic leadership and commitment to the City of Philadelphia.
In January 2018, VISIT PHILADELPHIA’s board of directors announced that Levitz plans to leave her leadership post by the end of the year. Jeff Guaracino, current president and CEO of Welcome America, Inc., has been selected to lead VISIT PHILADELPHIA and its talented staff beginning on October 29, 2018. Read more in the press release here.
Levitz has served the city and region in several key capacities.
Groundbreaking Marketer. A natural thought leader and cultural champion, Levitz is dedicated to creating memorable marketing campaigns that build the image of the region and present it as a fun, exciting, must-visit destination. Here are some of the game-changing marketing initiatives Levitz has led at VISIT PHILADELPHIA:
— Photo by R. Kennedy for VISIT PHILADELPHIA®
Entrepreneur. In the beginning, Levitz and other big believers in Philadelphia’s potential had no road map to take Philadelphia where they thought it should go. She led VISIT PHILADELPHIA as a start-up and continues to take that approach today by:
Adopting Social Media Early
Visit Philly’s social media serves up content to more than 1.5 million engaged social followers
Team Builder. Of course, no one can do a job of this magnitude alone, and one of Levitz’s most important roles has been creating a strong, diverse and collaborative team at VISIT PHILADELPHIA. Levitz has structured the company to function in an integrated fashion, which enables it to be flexible and change direction as needed to address marketplace fluctuations and react to events happening around the country and the world. She always has an eye out for both top and up-and-coming talent to continue to reach VISIT PHILADELPHIA’s goals and create new ones.
Click here to view and download Meryl Levitz’s headshot.
Every month, Meryl Levitz sends an email update to thousands of VISIT PHILADELPHIA stakeholders. Go here if you’d like to subscribe.
A selection of recent articles.
Meryl Levitz In The News:
News About VISIT PHILADELPHIA:
Destination News About Philadelphia:
2018 Annual Report
By all measures, 2017 was a success for Philadelphia as a travel destination. Check out our accomplishments by the numbers.
2018 Destination Timeline
Often lauded as an overnight sensation, Greater Philadelphia has seen many milestones over the last 30 years. Our Destination Timeline highlights the major ones.
What’s coming up over the next year in Philly—all on one sheet of paper.