President & Chief Executive Officer, VISIT PHILADELPHIA®
In her role as president and CEO of VISIT PHILADELPHIA®, Meryl Levitz is responsible for building the region’s image and growing its tourism industry, worth $10.7 billion in economic impact. Stated simply, her job is to get people to visit Philadelphia. A respected civic leader and consummate convener, Levitz has spent more than 30 years working to get Philadelphia’s hospitality industry recognized as a vibrant one and to get Philadelphia and The Countryside® recognized as a premier destination. In 2015 alone, the region welcomed a record 41 million domestic visitors—36.2 million (88%) of which came for a leisure purpose.
Levitz works with VISIT PHILADELPHIA’s board and staff to build Greater Philadelphia’s image, drive visitation and boost the economy. The region’s official tourism marketing agency employs advertising, public relations, web and social media tactics, hotel marketing and research. Successful campaigns include: Phillyosophy®, an evolution of the beloved With Love, Philadelphia XOXO®; Philly’s More Fun When You Sleep Over®, the most successful post-9/11 hospitality recovery campaign in the country; the groundbreaking Philadelphia – Get Your History Straight And Your Nightlife Gay®; Philly 360°® for younger, tech-savvy travelers; With Art Philadelphia®, the city’s first-ever coordinated visual arts marketing effort; and Historic Philadelphia, the organization’s newest campaign aimed at getting more people to visit the original city and do more while in the area.
After receiving Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the University of Illinois, Levitz began her career as an educator but soon began promoting her adopted town of Philadelphia, first as co-founder of the Center City Proprietors Association in 1978 and later at the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau, where she oversaw the opening of the Pennsylvania Convention Center, opened the Great Plaza at Pen’s Landing and developed annual celebrations (Jambalaya Jam, River Blues, Yo! Philadelphia and others) to draw crowds to the waterfront. In 2002 and 2003, Levitz co-chaired Governor Ed Rendell’s tourism-transition team. In all of her positions, the thought leader and cultural champion has focused on image building and branding, economic development and civic engagement, determined to make Philadelphians proud of and passionate about the place they call home.
Recognized locally and nationally for the tourism marketing work they do, Levitz and the VISIT PHILADELPHIA team have accrued a wealth of honors over the years. Travel news site Skift named Levitz to its World’s Top Travel Marketers list in December 2013. VISIT PHILADELPHIA’s campaigns and web and social media properties have garnered plenty of praise as well from lauded organizations and publications such as U.S. Travel Association, Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International, International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, International Academy of the Visual Arts, Travel + Leisure and Travel Weekly, among others.
Vice President of Communications, VISIT PHILADELPHIA®
As vice president of communications for VISIT PHILADELPHIA, Paula Butler is responsible for developing the company’s communication strategy and leading a team of communications professionals to promote Philadelphia as a leisure destination and enhance its brand reputation. In addition to her day-to-day communications functions, Butler leads the VISIT PHILADELPHIA communications team—which has won more than 50 industry awards—in media relations, content development and social media to keep Philadelphia in the news and top-of-mind for consumers.
A native of the Philadelphia region, Butler was the organization’s first vice president of communications in its early years, from 1999-2006, setting up the communications department that is now a model within the travel industry. She resumed the role in April 2012, and once again, plays a key role in VISIT PHILADELPHIA's consumer campaigns, such as With Love, Philadelphia XOXO® and With Art Philadelphia®, and its corporate communications outreach.
For six years, Butler served as senior director of global communications at Bethesda, Maryland-based Marriott International, responsible for promoting the company’s 15 lodging brands across the Americas, Europe and the Middle East/Africa regions. She also worked as senior vice president of the travel and tourism practice at Porter/Novelli in New York. Before turning to PR, Butler was a writer and editor for several business publications at the Advertising Specialty Institute in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, and at Harcourt Brace Jovanovich in New York. She attended Villanova University. Butler currently lives in the Midtown Village section of Philadelphia.
Director of Media Relations, VISIT PHILADELPHIA®
Cara Schneider is the director of media relations for VISIT PHILADELPHIA®, a position she assumed in 2006 after seven years with the company. In this role, she manages the media relations team and their efforts to publicize to local and national press Philadelphia’s history, art, food, neighborhoods, family attractions and more, as well as VISIT PHILADELPHIA’s own campaigns and tactics—all of which build the region’s image as a premier leisure destination.
Highly respected by journalists, Schneider regularly places stories in The New York Times, The Washington Post, National Geographic Traveler, Travel + Leisure, PRWeek and The Philadelphia Inquirer, and she is part of a team that counts 75+ industry awards from organizations like Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International, Public Relations Society of America and PR News. Schneider has guided the media relations strategy for many of the company’s projects (the in-the-works 2016 Democratic National Convention, the 2015 papal visit and the moving of the Liberty Bell in 2003) and campaigns (With Love, Philadelphia XOXO®, With Art Philadelphia®, Philadelphia Neighborhoods and many others). She also plays a critical room in tracking and measuring the company’s press placements, which reached a record 8,000+ clips in 2015.
Continuing her commitment to Philadelphia outside of work, Schneider regularly lends her PR-savvy and do-gooder spirit to Honey’s Angels, an organization devoted to providing food and supermarket gift cards to struggling families. She has also sat on the board of Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, dedicated to inspiring creativity through folk, mosaic and visionary art, and served as a member of the Francisville Neighborhood Development Corporation’s PR & Branding Committee and on the Congregation Rodeph Shalom Membership Committee. Schneider is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania.
Director of Social Media, VISIT PHILADELPHIA®
Dana Schmidt is the director of social media at VISIT PHILADELPHIA®, the region’s official tourism marketing agency. Schmidt is responsible for continuing to grow the brand’s social media fan base beyond 1.2 million followers (and counting). As the director of social media for VISIT PHILADELPHIA, she leads the organization’s award-winning social media program by curating compelling content and using innovative tactics to keep fans and followers engaged.
Schmidt, who joined VISIT PHILADELPHIA in March 2016, chartered a new way to engage mobile-savvy travelers and locals with an account on the latest image- and video-based storytelling social media platform, Snapchat. The account covers live, Philly-focused events and shares exclusive on-the-ground content from events and attractions in the Philadelphia region year round. She also led social media efforts around the launch of VISIT PHILADELPHIA’s Historic Philadelphia campaign and helped shine the social media spotlight on Philadelphia during the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
Schmidt has helped expand the organization’s influencer marketing program by organizing Pokémon GO meet-ups and Snapchat scavenger hunts. Building on the success of VISIT PHILADELPHIA’s Guest Instagram program, Schmidt also implemented special guest takeovers for the organization’s Snapchat account.
Under her leadership, VISIT PHILADELPHIA’s social media program has been recognized by such industry outlets as Adweek and travel news website Skift.
Schmidt has shared her social insights with audiences at Mashable’s Social Media Day Philadelphia 2016.
Driven by her passion for storytelling, Schmidt is a champion for organizations that promote creative expression. Prior to joining the VISIT PHILADELPHIA team, Schmidt coordinated digital marketing efforts across platforms at WHYY in Philadelphia and, before that, at Rocky Mountain PBS in Denver. As the digital marketing manager for Rocky Mountain PBS, Schmidt earned a Regional Emmy Award for producing “Women and Girls Lead” public service campaigns. She is also a former member of the Board of Governors for the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.
A writer for a variety of audiences and media, Schmidt was honored in 2015 for her short fiction work by Glimmer Train, a magazine that champions emerging writers. Schmidt is pursuing a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from New York University.