Visit Pensacola hires new CEO

As we reported yesterday:

Press Release: Visit Pensacola announced today that Darien Schaefer will be its next President/CEO. Schaefer and the organization reached an agreement and the Board of Directors held a special meeting earlier today to vote on contract negotiations.

“We’ve had some incredible candidates through this entire process, and I want to thank SearchWide Global and the Visit Pensacola Search Committee for doing such a standup job, Board Chairman Sterling Gilliam said. The board and I feel confident in their selection and we’re excited for Darien’s leadership and vision for the organization.”

Darien Schaefer joins the team from Visit Big Bear in Big Bear Lake, Calif., where he served as CEO for the past three years. Schaefer brings to the team over 20 years of destination marketing experience, including his most recent roles as CEO of Visit Lake Geneva and Executive Director at the Wausau/Central Wisconsin CVB/Sports Authority.

“I’ve been in hospitality/tourism all my life and have been fortunate to work in destinations small and large. There’s an energy here, a momentum that makes this an exciting time for Pensacola and Escambia County, Schaefer said. Leading the team at Visit Pensacola and representing one of the best beach destinations in the United States is a tremendous opportunity. My wife, Karen, and I are looking forward to becoming part of the community.”

Schaefer was one of two candidates recommended by the search committee for the President/CEO position along with Pamela Johnson of Lee County. During the February meeting, the board voted to approve both candidates as viable options to lead the organization. The board approved beginning negotiations with Johnson but that if an agreement could not be reached, an offer would be made to Schaefer. Johnson declined the position due to unforeseen family and personal reasons.

“It is with sadness I must decline the search committee’s offer for the Visit Pensacola CEO position. A personal family matter made this a difficult decision and family is first with me, Pamela Johnson said. I was delighted to receive the opportunity because of the wonderful people I met during my interviews; the community and the Visit Pensacola staff left a good impression with me.”

Following former President Steve Hayes resignation in Dec. 2019., the Executive Search Firm SearchWide Global had been tasked with finding suitable candidates to fill the position. Since his departure, former Escambia County Administrator Jack Brown has served as the interim president.

Schaefer’s projected start date is April 20.