Anaheim, Los Angeles and Orlando CVBs All Need to Fill Top Post

May 13, 2012

It’s an extraordinary time in the world of DMOs, with three large city’s bureaus - the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board, the Anaheim/Orange County Convention & Visitor Bureau and Visit Orlando - currently looking to find someone to fill their top posts.

After nine years running the bureau in Los Angeles, Mark Liberman recently announced he is going to retire to spend more time with his wife, Karen, as well as increase his work with the Alzheimer’s Association.

“The friendships, experiences and rewards have been many,” Liberman said.

He added, “They will always be treasured, and a very special thanks to all our employees, without whom all our successes at Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board wouldn't have been possible ... I know going forward, with their hard work and dedication, we will continue to see the tourism industry grow in Los Angeles.”

Liberman said the board hopes to find his replacement by the fourth quarter of 2012.

Tom Mullen, the Chairman of the Board and Vice President of American Express, will lead the search committee along with other members of our Board of Directors and Liberman will remain a member of the board.  

Another Southern California city, Anaheim, is losing the long-time leader of its CVB – Charles Ahlers.

“I have been fortunate to be able to realize many accomplishments during my four decade career in this industry,” Ahlers said.

He added, “I have worked for five distinct destination marketing organizations, and it seems fitting at this time to finish my visitor industry career on a high note. This Anaheim Resort community and all of Orange County have evolved into a leading leisure and business destination, and I’m very pleased to have played an active role in shaping what it is today.”

Ahlers served as president of the AOCVCB since 1992, and early in his career, he was a convention sales manager at the AOCVCB from 1972-1979.

In total, he had 28 years of service with the organization.

Ahlers said he had “no plans for what he was doing next” and was going to take some time to decide once he steps down.

The AOCVCB will conduct an executive search for Ahlers’ replacement, according to CVB officials.

Ahlers will stay involved in the organization as an advisor and also continue to be instrumental in the current development of the Anaheim Convention Center and the Grand Plaza.

Orlando suffered a tragic loss recently when the president and CEO of its bureau, Gary Sain, passed away suddenly.

“As the leader of Visit Orlando, Gary served as our community's brand ambassador working tirelessly on behalf of Orlando and the entire travel and tourism industry,” Paul Tang, chairman of the Visit Orlando board of directors said in a statement.

He added, “He spent his entire career working in hospitality and was honored numerous times for his contributions. The Visit Orlando team, our destination partners and our community have lost a wonderful leader and friend. He will truly be missed by all that knew him.”

Sain is survived by his wife, Pam, mother, Elizabeth Sain, and two daughters - Vanessa Sain-Dieguez (Luis) and Olivia.

With a long career in the trade show industry, Sain started at Visit Orlando in February 2007, replacing industry veteran Bill Peeper, and is credited with Orlando reaching a record of 51.5 million visitors in 2010, the first U.S. destination to surpass the 50 million visitor milestone.


Visit Orlando’s COO and CFO Larry Henrichs will continue to oversee the day-to-day operations of the organization.

 Henrichs, who has been with Visit Orlando for 18 years, previously served in this role following the retirement of Bill Peeper and while Gary was out on personal leave in early January 2011.

The senior leadership team made of up Danielle Courtenay, chief marketing officer; Laurence Barron, chief technology officer; Tammi Runzler, senior vice president, Convention Sales & Services; and Misty Johantgen, senior vice president, Partner Relations and Development, will continue to lead their respective areas within Visit Orlando.

Implementation of the organization’s board-approved, three-year strategic business plan also will continue.

Following Sain’s memorial service last weekend, the Board said it would re-convene in the near future to address next steps in the succession process.

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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.