Haley to retire from Visit Sarasota County at end of September

New president expected to be named this summer

After serving at the helm of Visit Sarasota County (VSC) for 24 years, Virginia J. Haley has announced her plans to retire at the end of September.

The VSC board of directors “has an established succession plan in place,” a news release points out.

“Being given the opportunity to promote Sarasota County as a tourism destination has been a dream position and each week brought the delight of discovering new facets of this amazing community,” said Haley in the release. “Together, with a visionary board of directors, a supportive Sarasota County Commission, a passionate tourism community and dedicated staff,” she continued in the release, “we have built a high-performing team and I’m confident in the destination’s future.”

“Virginia has been a rock in both good and challenging times and has made Sarasota a better community for all of us,” said Nick Mavrikas, chair of the VSC board, in the release. “Her vision, commitment and warmth have been a tremendous asset to the organization, the community and the industry. We are grateful for her leadership and contributions and look forward to continuing her successful legacy into the future.”

Haley began her career with VSC at a time when the county’s Tourist Development Tax (TDT) — also known as the “bed tax” — generated $5.4 million annually, the release notes. “Most recently, the TDT generated $40 million annually,” the release points out.

During Haley’s tenure, the release continues, Sarasota “evolved from a tourism destination with limited accommodations to what is today one of the fastest growing tourism markets in the U.S.”

Over that period, the release continues, Sarasota “opened significant hotel properties,” including the Sarasota Ritz-Carlton, the Sarasota Westin, the Aloft, the Art Ovation and the Embassy Suites in downtown Sarasota, as well as multiple properties in Venice and North Port, among others.

“Haley oversaw strategic planning,” launched promotional programs through partnerships, and expanded sales and marketing initiatives into new markets of opportunity, resulting in widespread awareness of, and visits to, Sarasota County, the release adds.

Among the highlights of Haley’s tenure are the creation of the Circus Heritage Trail, the Sarasota and Venice Architecture Guides, and Discover Natural Sarasota. She also created Savor Sarasota Restaurant Week to drive off-season visits to area restaurants, the release notes, and she “was a driving force in establishing Newtown on the U.S. Civil Rights Trail.”

Further, Haley was instrumental in expanding Sarasota’s sports tourism efforts, the release says, and she aided in the development of Spring Training facilities for the Baltimore Orioles and Atlanta Braves, the Sarasota BMX Track and Nathan Benderson Park, the release adds.

“I am most proud of the role VSC and its board played in 2014 when they started and led the community discussion on transforming the Sarasota Bayfront into what is now known as The Bay Sarasota,” said Haley in the release. “If VSC had not stepped up to lead the charge in those early days, there would not be the spectacular Phase One of the park that is there today.”

“Haley was also a prominent figure in the tourism industry on a state and national level,” the release points out. “Passionate about destination marketing organizations (DMOs) maintaining the highest standards within the industry, she spearheaded VSC’s effort to earn international accreditation and, subsequently, chaired Destination International’s global Destination Management Accreditation Program (DMAP) for DMOs, the release says. She also chaired Destinations Florida and the VISIT FLORIDA board of directors.

The VSC board of directors has put in place a search committee with members from throughout the county to assist the board in selecting Haley’s successor, the release continues. SearchWide Global is leading the process.

The VSC board expects to have a new president named by the summer, the release points out.

SearchWide Global is accepting qualified applications for the position, the release adds. For more information, go to SearchWideGlobal.com or contact Kellie Henderson, senior vice president of SearchWide Global, at Henderson@SearchWideGlobal.com.