Phillip Jones, president and CEO of Visit Dallas, has announced his resignation. According to the convention and visitors bureau, its board of directors and Jones came to a mutual decision at a board meeting on Wednesday. Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings has announced this afternoon that Sam Coats, a former chairman of Visit Dallas and the immediate past chair of the board of directors for the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, will be the interim CEO of Visit Dallas while the board conducts a search for Jones's successor.
"The board is thankful to Phillip for his 15 years of leadership and great career at Visit Dallas," said Mark Woelffer, general manager of the Sheraton Dallas Hotel and current Visit Dallas board chair. "We are proud of the work Visit Dallas has accomplished during Phillip's tenure to promote Dallas, which is now a top-10 destination nationally for meetings, conventions, sporting events and leisure travel. As Phillip has decided to pursue other opportunities, we wish him the very best."
What's not being said is that Jones and the bureau have been under fire lately, following an audit of the CVB's finances that questioned the organization's management of the tax dollars it receives from the city. Also no longer with the organization is CFO Matthew Jones (no relation to the CEO).
With Phillip Jones stepping down, the hospitality industry loses a strong advocate against efforts by the Texas Legislature to institute discriminatory laws that could hurt tourism in the state. Two years ago, Jones helped spearhead the fight against the bathroom bill that would have restricted the use of bathrooms to a person's birth gender; in the last few weeks, he has been instrumental in speaking out against the state senate's approval of SB-17, which aims to allow certain licensed practitioners to refuse service based on their religious beliefs. That bill is now in the hands of the Texas House of Representatives. The current session of the Texas Legislature, which meets once every two years, ends on May 27.
"It has been a privilege to lead Visit Dallas during an important period of growth for the organization, and now it's time for my next challenge," said Jones in a statement. "Together with my colleagues at Visit Dallas, the city of Dallas and partners across the hospitality and tourism industry, we have positioned Dallas as the top visitor destination in Texas for meetings and events, and one of the top convention and visitor destinations in the nation. I'm proud of our accomplishments and know the organization is on track for continued success."
"Phillip's positive contributions to Dallas have been significant and lasting," said Joyce Williams, associate vice chancellor for workforce and economic development at the Dallas County Community College District, and the incoming board chair of Visit Dallas. "During Phillip's tenure, hotel room-night bookings increased fivefold, we moved from number 18 to number 6 on the country's top visitor destination list, Dallas' Tourism Public Improvement District was created and Dallas was rebranded as a global destination. He led the charge statewide to defeat the ‘bathroom bill' not just once, but twice. We wish Phillip well and look forward to continuing the great momentum as we welcome new leadership."
Welcoming Coats to the bureau, Woeffler said, "Sam's expertise in the travel and airline industries, civic service and as a corporate leader make him uniquely suited to lead VisitDallas during this critical transition period. He has a demonstrated ability to act as a stabilizer during times of change, which will serve VisitDallas well as we enter a new chapter for the organization with new leadership."
Williams is leading the search committee to identify Visit Dallas' next leader.