The Journey of Angela Val, a Philly tourism and hospitality trailblazer
Meet the new President & CEO of Visit Philadelphia, who returns to the organization in which she first made a name for herself over two decades prior.
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When Angela Val was growing up in Rockville, Maryland, she always envisioned herself eventually living in a large city.
“I’ve always been really drawn to big cities,” Val said during an interview with AL DÍA. “All the bright lights that show up in the evening as the sun goes down always represented life to me.”
Val really wanted to be a part of that, so when it came time to apply to college, she intentionally searched for colleges in big cities.
She ultimately chose Drexel University in Philadelphia. In her mind, Philadelphia was perfect to start that next chapter in her life.
“It still is a city on the east coast where I grew up, and it still had a hometown feel,” she thought.
Despite this, Val initially felt intimidated and overwhelmed by the city and the new environment.
Though she often visited Washington, DC — another metropolitan US city — growing up, it took time to adjust. However, she soon found Philadelphia to be quite charming, calling it “like a little gem between two rivers.”
Fast forward nearly three decades later, and Val has left an indelible mark on the city she has called home ever since.
An Easy Choice
At Drexel, Val majored in hospitality and tourism. Her decision was influenced by the fact that her uncle was the former president & CEO of a national travel association in their home state.
“That was the first time that I kind of understood that there was an industry much bigger than just hotels,” said Val.
“Also when I was traveling as a child, it always interested me to go to other places and see how other people lived and what their towns look like, and what kind of food they ate,” she added.
Val’s first job was as a Drexel co-op with Hospitality Partners, a hotel management company that managed the Embassy Suites on the recently-opened parkway.
Throughout her four years with the company, she worked as a front desk agent, sales manager and director of catering.
It was also there that she began to learn and build up her knowledge within the industry that she has dedicated her career to.
Climbing the Ladder with Visit Philly
In 1998, Val was hired by Visit Philly — then called The Greater Philadelphia Tourism and Marketing Corporation — as a receptionist and assistant to founding President and CEO, Meryl Levitz.
Val had always been impressed by Levitz, who would often check in at her former employer.
“She was running a big show, she always had the walkie talkie on her hip, ordering people around and doing big things in the city,” Val recalled.
After Levitz became the founding president and CEO of Visit Philly in 1996, Val knew that she eventually wanted an opportunity to work there. Two years later, she got the opportunity.
Over her 17-year tenure there, Val climbed up the ladder across the organization.
After her receptionist title, she was promoted to hotel program director, a role she held for four years.
The bulk of her tenure saw Val work as vice president of special projects for Visit Philly, playing an integral role in the planning and hosting of several large-scale events in the city, as well as overseeing various marketing campaigns.
In 2000, Philadelphia hosted the Republican National Convention. That particular event had a profound impact on Val.
“The RNC is the event that gave me the love for big city-wide events,” she said.
Her thought process was, “There's just so much going on, and people are happy. We’re all working together, it’s going to put us on an international and national stage.”
Val’s tenure also saw her play a key role in Philadelphia hosting a number of other large events in the city, including the 2015 World Meeting of Families and the Papal visit.
A Once in a Lifetime Opportunity
During Val’s final year with Visit Philly, she served as vice president & chief external affairs officer.
In early 2015, Val received an offer she simply could not refuse — an opportunity to be the executive director for the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, which was set to take place the following year.
Given that the city had hosted the RNC just 16 years prior, Val didn’t know when Philadelphia would get another opportunity to host a political convention of this magnitude.
Therefore, she jumped at the unique opportunity.
“The DNC was kind of a dream come true because it’s very rare that someone gets to work on both a Republican and a Democratic Convention,” she said.
With the 2016 DNC, Val was responsible for the execution of many of the host committee events throughout the Convention.
It was a huge responsibility, so huge that she thought that if things didn’t work out, she’d have to move from Philadelphia and pick a new city to work in.
“But it did work,” said Val. “The Convention went off well, Philadelphia looked amazing.”
However, the experience added more clarity to what she believes is the best component of promoting a city — the ability to showcase the residents of a city to the rest of the world.
The Other Side of Business
Given the fact that the DNC job was a project role with a specific start and end date, after the Convention came and went, Val had to decide her next career chapter.
In December 2016, she became the Chief Administrative Officer for the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“I decided to go to the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau because I wanted to learn the other side of business,” said Val.
While Visit Philly focuses on leisure and domestic travel, the Convention and Visitors Bureau focuses more on travel for business meetings and conventions.
It was Val’s belief that having this new set of knowledge would help make her a more well-rounded professional within the tourism and hospitality industry.
Quite frankly, it did just that.
“While I was at the Bureau, I really learned a lot about how large conventions come to the city, what they contribute to the market, how they see our city, the rotations of conventions. It’s a very competitive market,” said Val.
In addition, she learned the similarities between the Convention and Visitors Bureau and Visit Philly.
Whether travel occurs for leisure or business purposes, the attractions of the city by visitors and tourists lead to dollars and economic growth.
However, like every industry, tourism and hospitality took a major hit due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Bureau was prepared to switch to remote work, which Val noted was helped by the fact that its sales team had already been working remotely.
While closures and cancellations caused a financial hit, government funding helped the Bureau remain intact as the pandemic progressed.
In January 2021, Val was named the executive director of Ready.Set.Philly, a year-long initiative to bring back vibrancy and financial growth to the city in the aftermath of the pandemic.
From vaccine hesitancy to The Great Resignation, Val noted that the initiative had its share of ups and downs during its tenure.
However, over time things improved.
“I think we’re well on our way now to people having what we’re calling a more normal sense of what their day-to-day looks like,” said Val.
A Full Circle Moment
After seven years away, including the past year as the Chief Operating Officer for integrated marketing agency Tempest, Val was named the new President & CEO of Visit Philly in May.
“It’s a true homecoming,” said Val.
“I think if you were to have asked me back in 1998 when I joined Visit Philadelphia, did I ever think I’d be the president and CEO of the organization, I would have very quickly given you a very confident ‘no,’” she added.
However, her decision and the opportunity to return is with a clear focus for Val.
“For me to be able to come back to an organization that has played such a significant role in my career, and a city that has been a part of everything I’ve done in my personal life and in my professional life, it gives me the opportunity to give back and to promote the city that I have enjoyed living in for the last 31 years,” she said.
Val is the first Black woman to hold the role as Visit Philly’s President and CEO.
The distinction didn’t dawn on her initially, but is one that she believes is a natural progression in her career.
“What I really hope is that when people see me in this role, they see themselves,” said Val.
She hopes that seeing her in this high level executive position will inspire individuals in marginalized communities to go after their dreams and also become “the first” in their own right.
“Even though it might be a longer road or a little bit more challenging, go for it,” Val added.
Goals of a Brighter, More Vibrant Philly
Val said that collaboration is a big part of her leadership style.
When she officially takes on the new role starting June 28, Val’s first order of business will be to go on a listening tour, speaking with the Visit Philly staff, board, business owners, government and community leaders and several stakeholders.
“I just want to make sure that we create a collaborative foundation to build our future vision and plans on both the organization and for our industry,” said Val.
While the city remains in a different position now than prior to 2020, it’s Val’s belief that more progress can continue being made if the work is done together.
“We’ll get an opportunity to showcase Philadelphia, our vibrancy and get back that strong sense of community,” she added.
When it comes to Philadelphia as a tourist destination, Val is confident in where the city stands.
From the historical significance to the restaurants, parks, museums, events, and various other attractions, Val believes there is a lot to love about the city.
“Philadelphia is the birthplace of our country, it’s a must-see site,” she said.