CLEARWATER — Pinellas County may finally be closer to selecting its new tourism pitchman and strategist.
County administrator Barry Burton on Tuesday announced three finalists who are all current tourism bureau heads to take over the CEO position at Visit St. Pete/Clearwater.
This is the second time Burton has made such an announcement — but in May, Burton decided none of the previous finalists were the right fit to manage the county’s $40 million tourism marketing budget.
"We expanded our nationwide search and found extremely well qualified talent in these candidates,” Burton said in a statement.
Burton said he’s deciding among three men:
Christopher Barrett, 57, the current president and CEO of the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau in Pennsylvania; Jeffrey Seifried, 36, president and CEO of the Branson Lakes/Area Chamber of Commerce and county visitor bureau in Missouri; and Steve Hayes, 56, the president and CEO of Visit Pensacola.
The head of the county bureau position has been mostly vacant since the start of the year after its former CEO left suddenly. An interim CEO lasted two months before leaving to lead a zoo, which forced the county’s head of solid waste to wear two hats and manage the tourism bureau.
Hayes appears to be the only candidate with local ties. He has been with Pensacola since 2013, but spent the bulk of his career in the Hillsborough County tourism scene. Hayes worked with Visit Tampa Bay — Hillsborough’s tourism group — for 25 years in several roles, including executive vice president.
Barrett has been the head of the visitor bureau in the Poconos — a four-county destination — since 2017. He has long history in marketing, was the head of Visit Lancaster, another Pennsylvania tourism bureau, and spent two decades with Hershey Park.
Seifried has led the tourism bureau mountain-destination Branson since 2015. Before that, Seifried worked in regional development for the Springfield (Missouri) Area Chamber of Commerce.
Like he did in May, Burton will host an evening for the community and local tourism leaders to meet the candidates. The public meet-and-greet will run from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the Sheraton Sand Key Resort on Sept. 30.
Senior News Researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.