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 $9.3 billion in economic impact. A respected civic leader and consummate convener, Levitz has spent more than 30 years working to get Philadelphia’s hospitality industry recognized as a viable and vibrant one. In 2012 alone, the region welcomed 38.8 million domestic visitors—that’s 12 million more than in 1997 when the company started marketing.
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 (PCVB), where she oversaw the opening of the Pennsylvania Convention Center, opened the Great Plaza at Penn’s Landing and developed annual celebrations (Jambalaya Jam, River Blues, Yo! Philadelphia and others) to draw crowds to the plaza. 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.
Levitz works closely with Visit Philadelphia’s board and staff to build the region’s economy and image through destination marketing that increases the number of visitors, the number of nights they stay and the number of things they do in the five-county area. The company employs advertising, public relations, web and social media tactics, hotel marketing and research. Successful campaigns include: the current and well-loved 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 African-American travelers; and With Art Philadelphia™, the city’s first-ever coordinated and sustained visual arts marketing effort.
Levitz serves on the U.S. Travel Association board; Philadelphia International Airport Advisory Board; on the Mayor’s Hospitality Cabinet; on the Mayor’s Cultural Advisory Council; and on the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts’ Sales and Marketing Advisory Committee. She is also on the boards of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, Independence Visitor Center, Historic Philadelphia, Inc, Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, Wawa Welcome America! and Global Philadelphia.
Vice President, Strategic Initiatives, Visit Philadelphia™
- As vice president of strategic initiatives at Visit Philadelphia™, Colleen Wyse leads the direction and management of key strategic corporate and institutional relationships; oversees all advertising campaigns and joint marketing programs; manages the creative services department; and serves as the company liaison for regional, state and national tourism relationships.
Visit Philadelphia™ implements integrated marketing strategies to build image and visitation, using research, advertising, public relations, social media and a strong online presence. Successful campaigns include: the new Phillyosophy™, an evolution of the well-loved With Love, Philadelphia XOXO®; Philly’s More Fun When You Sleep Over®, the most successful post-9/11 hospitality recovery campaign in the U.S.; the groundbreaking Philadelphia – Get Your History Straight And Your Nightlife Gay®; Philly 360°® for younger, tech savvy travelers; and With Art Philadelphia™, the city’s first-ever coordinated and sustained visual arts marketing effort.
Wyse most recently worked at HSN (Home Shopping Network) as director of strategic marketing alliances. Prior to that job, she was employed by Conde Nast Publications, where she gathered nearly two decades of experience in advertising sales and publishing, working at major publications such as Vogue, Glamour and Women’s Wear Daily, among many others. Wyse also boasts experience in the arts and culture sector thanks to opportunities at a theater and cultural center in Illinois and New York respectively.Wyse graduated from the University of St. Francis and completed master’s level work at Northern Illinois University. She lives in Philadelphia’s Society Hill neighborhood with her husband.
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.
Vice President of Special Projects, Visit Philadelphia™
As vice president of special projects for Visit Philadelphia™, Angela Val is charged with managing stakeholder relations, board affairs, legislative initiatives, promotional events and grant-related programming. She also oversees the highly successful hotel program, which since 2004 has booked more than 63,000 hotel reservations, accounting for $13 million in revenue for Philadelphia’s hotels.
A native of Washington, DC, Angela joined the organization in 1998 as executive assistant to Meryl Levitz, president and CEO. She has worked as hotel program director, creating the first hotel package program for the company, and she was part of the team that developed the Philly’s More Fun When You Sleep Over® campaign and Philly Overnight® Hotel Package. Launched after September 11, 2001, the program helped Philadelphia recover faster than any other city in the country, according to Smith Travel Research. Since its inception, the Philly Overnight® Hotel Package has been booked more than 110,000 times, accounting for more than 211,000 room nights and more than $22.5 million in hotel revenue.
Angela serves as a board member for the 3rd Century Initiative (3CI), a council of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce dedicated to strengthening the economic vitality of the region’s business community, and Philadelphia Hospitality, a group that provides distinctive tours of a rich collection of cultural and historic treasures throughout the region. Val is a past board member of the Philadelphia chapter of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, where she counseled African-American parents about the high-quality educational options available to their children, and the Professional Women’s Roundtable, a group that supports the advancement of female managers in the Philadelphia region.
A graduate of Drexel University, Angela began her career in hospitality in 1994 as a sales manager for Philadelphia’s Embassy Suites.
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 as it promotes 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 works with such outlets as The New York Times, The Washington Post, National Geographic Traveler, Travel + Leisure, PRWeek, Gadling and The Philadelphia Inquirer, and she is part of a team that counts 55+ 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 campaigns and projects, including the Benjamin Franklin 300 celebration; the inaugural Philly Beer Week; The Real-Life Wedding of Ben Franklin and Betsy Ross; Philly’s More Fun When You Sleep Over®; With Love, Philadelphia XOXO®; and With Art Philadelphia™.
Continuing her commitment to Philadelphia outside of work, Schneider sits on the board of Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, dedicated to inspiring creativity and community engagement by educating the public about folk, mosaic and visionary art. She is also an active member of the Francisville Neighborhood Development Corporation’s PR & Branding Committee and of the Congregation Rodeph Shalom Membership Committee. Schneider is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania.
National Media Relations/Social Media Director, Visit Philadelphia™
Caroline Bean is the director of social media at Visit Philadelphia™. She joined the company in 2003 as the public relations coordinator and soon became an integral member of the media relations team, placing stories in The Washington Post, PR Week, USA Today, GQ and Jaunted. In her current position, she focuses on travel and lifestyle media relations and Visit Philadelphia’s social media initiatives.
Bean has played a key role in developing the organization’s e-tourism efforts—from podcasts and the popular uwishunu.com blog to the newest powerhouse, Instagram. At the helm of Visit Philadelphia’s social media efforts, she works to integrate a well-rounded social media strategy into every campaign and has helped to establish Philadelphia’s voice to consumers. She is part of a communications team that has won 55 industry awards, including a PR News NonProfit PR award for the With Love, Philadelphia XOXO® social media campaign and two SMITTYs (Social Media in Travel + Tourism Award) from Travel + Leisure for Visit Philly's Foodspotting and Twitter accounts.
Bean has taken the social media show on the road, presenting at events such as the U.S. Travel Association’s Educational Seminar for Tourism Organizations (ESTO) conference, BlogWorld, Travel Blogger Exchange (TBEX) and the annual convention of Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI). In 2012, the U.S. Travel Association named Bean to its travel industry task force, created to support a new branding initiative for the organization.
In addition to her professional responsibilities, Bean is on the board committee for Professional Women’s Roundtable and serves on the marketing advisory committee for University City District. In 2008, she traveled to Tanzania, Africa to teach English to the Maasai people.
Prior to Visit Philadelphia™, Bean worked at an advertising agency in Baltimore. She is a graduate of the University of Delaware.
Director, Hotel Programs, Visit Philadelphia™
As director of hotel programs for Visit Philadelphia™, Erik Evjen serves as the primary liaison between Visit Philadelphia and the hotel community in the Greater Philadelphia region. He also manages Visit Philadelphia’s programs with AAA and CAA (Canadian Automobile Association) and the organization’s sports marketing initiatives.
Since joining the organization in 2011, Evjen has managed all hotel-related initiatives—developing hotel packages, negotiating vendor agreements, organizing social media promotions and overseeing the company’s online booking engine. He served as project manager for the implementation of a new hotel search engine on visitphilly.com, the region’s official tourism website, and always works closely with the organization’s communications, web and advertising departments to develop positive hotel messages and promote overnight stays. Evjen also manages the Hospitality Initiatives Committee, which identifies and addresses issues impacting the region’s hotel industry, and serves on the marketing committee for the Philadelphia Phlash Downtown Loop, which provides transportation service to key historical attractions and cultural institutions. He also serves on the board of the Norwegian-American Chamber of Commerce Philadelphia Chapter, Inc.
A native of Oslo, Norway, Evjen developed his expertise through his academic pursuits and direct hotel experience. While pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Hospitality Administration from Boston University, Evjen worked for Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants. Upon graduation, he returned to his hometown where he held hospitality-related positions at several companies, including Thon Hotels. He also worked as senior sales associate for 24SevenOffice Technology Group ASA, an international company delivering SaaS (Software as a Service) products to businesses around the world.
Evjen’s interests extend far beyond his professional life. His soccer skills earned him a college scholarship in the U.S. He is fluent in several languages, including English, Norwegian, Swedish and Danish. Evjen currently resides in the Graduate Hospital section of Philadelphia with his wife.