Visit Orlando's Gary Sain Dead at 61

The Industry Reacts


"What a tragedy. Gary was at our Springtime Expo on Thursday, the day before, and we walked the exhibit floor together. He jotted something down on the back of his business card to remind me to do something for him. Just shows you how you must enjoy every day as it is potentially your last. Gary had a real passion for the work he did in the hospitality, convention, and tourism industries. You could just tell by his smile and by his enthusiasm how excited he was about the work he did. He was so passionate about Orlando and the work he did in the community. We lost a real giant. I'm just shocked."

John Graham, President and CEO, ASAE
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"He had lots of plans, was very passionate, and executed on his plans — when Gary Sain called for help, you helped. I think it's very important for the industry to realize they've lost a very special person who cannot be replaced ... [He did] a marvelous job repositioning Orlando … I'm sure everyone is still in shock. Obviously, he's going to be missed in our industry."

Deborah Sexton, President and CEO, Professional Convention Management Association
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"Gary was the consummate marketing professional. He was remarkably creative, dedicated and passionate, and it was a distinct pleasure to call him both a partner and friend."

Peter Yesawich, Founder and CEO, Yesawich, Pepperdine, Brown & Russell
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"The unexpected loss of such a passionate industry leader and friend is simply heartbreaking. Gary was a visionary leader and a giant in our industry who worked tirelessly on behalf of Orlando and the travel industry. An avid supporter of DMAI, U.S. Travel, IAEE, and many other industry organizations, Gary served on the Board of Trustees for the Destination & Travel Foundation from July 2008 - July 2011. He also provided great leadership as a founding co-chair of the DMAI Advocacy Committee, a role he fulfilled until last July. Just recently Gary had been working diligently with our Foundation to establish a scholarship in memory of his father, Frank C. Sain, who passed away in February."

Michael D. Gehrisch, President and CEO, Destination Marketing Association International
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"On the weekend our industry and community lost a passionate leader and friend. Gary Sain was one of those few individuals whose personal passion for his community and our industry synched perfectly with his gift for story-telling. His unrelenting energy resulted in the creation of initiatives benefiting Orlando today and legacies for our industry to thrive on tomorrow as stewardship is passed to the next generation of leaders. He made both his community and our industry better. He gave us all a gift. We can thank and honor him by keeping his passion alive. Keep the Faith."

Bruce MacMillian, President and CEO, Meeting Professionals International
Via His Blog



"This is very tragic news and a terrible loss for our community. Under Gary's leadership as Visit Orlando's President and CEO, he helped put Orlando on the map as the number one tourism destination in the world, continuing to solidify our tourism market and the backbone of our economy. He will truly be missed and my thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends during this difficult time."

Buddy Dyer, Mayor, Orlando
In an Official Statement



"This is a great personal loss and I extend my sympathy to Gary's family, friends and the entire community. Gary's leadership leaves Visit Orlando in a strong position to carry on his vision to promote Orlando/Orange County as the world's top tourist destination and a wonderful place to meet and conduct business. Thanks to the solid team Gary put in place, I have total confidence that Visit Orlando will continue to fulfill that mission."

Teresa Jacobs, Mayor, Orange County
In an Official Statement



"I am deeply saddened by Gary's sudden passing, as are so many at Disney who had the privilege to work with him. He was a good friend to our company, our community and to me, and we will miss him dearly. Gary's leadership enabled Orlando to remain the world's top tourist destination during challenging times, and he leaves a legacy that we can build upon for years to come. Our thoughts and prayers are with Gary's wife, Pam, and his entire family, as we all mourn a good man who made a real difference for our community."

Meg Crofton, President, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts
In an Official Statement


Today, the meetings industry is mourning a longtime friend and advocate: Gary Sain, president and CEO of Visit Orlando, died "suddenly and unexpectedly" on Friday evening at the age of 61, according to Visit Orlando, which announced Sain's passing over the weekend. The cause of death has not yet been reported.

"Gary was a loving son, husband and father. Our thoughts go out to the people he most cherished, Gary's mother Elizabeth Sain, wife Pam and daughters Vanessa Sain-Dieguez (Luis) and Olivia," Visit Orlando Chairman Paul Tang said in an email. "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. 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."

Visit Orlando's executive committee reportedly met late Saturday to discuss interim management of the organization, although the outcomes of that meeting have not yet been announced.

"This is a great personal loss and I extend my sympathy to Gary's family, friends and the entire community," Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs said in a statement. "Gary's leadership leaves Visit Orlando in a strong position to carry on his vision to promote Orlando/Orange County as the world's top tourist destination and a wonderful place to meet and conduct business. Thanks to the solid team Gary put in place, I have total confidence that Visit Orlando will continue to fulfill that mission."

Sain, who joined Visit Orlando in 2007, is credited with Orlando reaching a record of 51.5 million visitors in 2010 — making it the first U.S. destination to surpass the 50-million-visitor milestone. His career spanned more than 30 years. Prior to joining Visit Orlando he spent eight years as executive vice president, chief marketing officer and partner of travel marketing firm Yesawich, Pepperdine, Brown & Russell, which later became Y Partnership and is now known as MMGY Global. Before that, he served at various points as executive vice president of sales and marketing for GES Exposition Services; senior vice president of sales, marketing and passenger services for Premier Cruise Line, a.k.a. The Big Red Boat; and assistant vice president of sales for Hyatt Hotels Corp.

Sain was a regular and trusted resource for Successful Meetings magazine, who most recently interviewed him for its April 2012 issue. During his conversation with Successful Meetings Senior Editor Leo Jakobson, his love for Orlando was present in full force.

"We had a very good year last year — probably the top year we have had as far as attendance — close to 1.2 million attendees," Sain said. "And we think this year has the potential to do more."