Gregg Caren has spent more than 20 years working with convention centers and destinations around the world as a leader at ASM Global (formerly SMG), most recently as executive vice president, sales and strategic business development. Beginning on June 8, Caren — who has lived in the Greater Philadelphia metro area for 25 years — will focus all his energy closer to home when he takes over as president and CEO of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau (PHLCVB).
“Gregg brings a wealth of knowledge and leadership from many facets of our industry, including prior sales, marketing, and operations experience working with convention centers, hotels, and CVBs, both domestically and internationally,” said Nick DeBenedictis, PHLCVB chairman, in a press release.
DeBenedictis also thanked Julie Coker “for extending her time as president & CEO” and her “spectacular job she’s done with the PHLCVB over the last 10 years. We’re happy that Julie and Gregg will be able to jointly work on a transition plan before she departs for the top tourism job in San Diego on May 28.”
“We believe that Gregg’s wide range of experience and collaborative nature are a great fit to lead the PHLCVB,” Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority President & CEO John McNichol said in the release. “He understands our business, our market and our customers, and we are confident this will be an easy transition to build upon our recent successes.”
Caren told Convene that he initially saw the recruitment and interview process for the role as a “normal process” and “an exciting opportunity with the CVB in my hometown,” he said. “Then, COVID began impacting our industry, our neighbors, and our communities. I started to feel a real civic responsibility associated with the chance to help lead Philadelphia in the recovery.”
As Caren weighed the big career decision, he thought about the introductory line in every presentation he led at ASM Global when he was working to secure venue management contracts in cities around the world.
“In that role, I started each discussion with a statement that ‘We are mindful of the fact that whatever we do in this convention center has an immediate impact on tens of thousands of jobs, livelihoods and families,’” Caren said. “I always believed that when I said it, and I felt it when I talked to cab drivers and walked through convention centers. But I don’t know if I’ve ever felt it as deeply as I have over the past few weeks. This is my hometown. My friends and my neighbors are part of these furloughs and these layoffs. Knowing how important [travel and hospitality is to the local economy] made me want to do this job even more. I want to do everything I can to get people back to work.”
Caren’s experience at ASM Global has given him the opportunity to see destination marketing strategies in action in a number of cities, and he plans to use that knowledge to help shape the recovery process. He also acknowledged that moving into the new role comes with a bonus: The chance to continue working with his previous company, which manages the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
“I will still be in a position to work with my friends and colleagues at ASM Global,” Caren said. “Those relationships will continue, and those friendships will continue. That made it easier to make the move.”
That familiarity will be welcome as he works toward a recovery in uncertain times. “Comeback is going to be a long and arduous process for every destination in the country,” he said. “I’m excited for the challenges and the opportunities.”
David McMillin is an associate editor at Convene.