Remembering the man who made Philly tourism, as President and CEO of VISIT PHILADELPHIA: Jeff Guaracino
It’s at this time of year where we talk about the people of note that we have lost. Philly is no exception when it comes to spotlights dimmed, and there are many, old and young, who passed on during 2021, who we’ll never forget. One such Philadelphia person who passed as we’re closing 2021 is Jeff Guaracino who died December 29 from complications due to cancer.
By age 48, Guaracino had achieved what others before him never did: he made Philadelphia into a place to be – for tourists from far away, and locals looking for adventure – beyond the Liberty Bell, beyond Betsy Ross, beyond the founding fathers, beyond cheesesteaks and soft pretzels, and into something inclusive of all races, genders and sexual preference.
I know that sounds like a lot for a guy who, what, just ran a tourist bureau, as the President and CEO of VISIT PHILADELPHIA, but Jeff genuinely changed how people inside and primarily outside of this city looked at Philly.
After having been the chief executive of the Philly nonprofit Welcome America and the Atlantic City Alliance, Jeff Guaracino became part of Visit Philadelphia (then, the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation) in 2001 as a director before becoming Vice President of Communications.
No less than two years after his arrival, he forged the groundbreaking “Get Your History Straight and Your Nightlife Gay” television campaign to welcome LGBTQ tourism to the city. If you know anyone from outside of Philly, you know that this set of commercials alone changed the perception of Philly as a straight (literally and figuratively) laced space, and we the first city to market LGBTQ tourism via television and a concentrated advertising program.
After this, Guaracino came to do the same thing for Black Philadelphia and Latino Philadelphia as he did for Gay Philadelphia, creating vividly alive and imaginative programs that would highlight locations, events and experiences that would enrich who we were and are, inclusively, at our very best. “We’re not defining anything with a slogan,” Jeff once told me. “The people of Philadelphia do it for us. That what gives this place soul and authenticity.”
I normally loathe to quote anything that Jim Kenney has to say, but, his public statement on Jeff Guaracino expresses much of what we should feel for the guy who made our uniqueness shine to the rest of the world.
“I am deeply saddened to learn about the passing of my dear friend Jeff Guaracino, President and CEO of VISIT PHILADELPHIA. His death is an enormous loss for our city and region. I extend my deepest condolences to Jeff’s family, friends, and all those who knew and loved him, during this incredibly difficult time.”
“Jeff had a deep love of his family and colleagues, and he left an indelible mark on the place he was most passionate about — his beloved Philadelphia. A fierce champion and promoter of his hometown, Jeff was also a proud advocate for the LGBTQ community. With his trademark energy, charismatic charm, and never-ending wit, he helped make Philadelphia the welcoming city and destination that it proudly is today.”
“We extend our support to the leadership team of VISIT PHILADELPHIA and are confident that the important work that meant so much to Jeff — promoting our great city as a must-visit destination — will continue.”