1. News
  2. /
  3. Business

Visit St. Pete/Clearwater taps Pensacola’s Steve Hayes to lead tourism marketing

Pinellas County has been on the hunt for a new tourism CEO since February.
Steve Hayes will be leaving his post at Visit Pensacola to become the CEO of Visit St. Pete/Clearwater. [Courtesy of Steve Hayes] [Steve Hayes]
Published Oct. 9

CLEARWATER — A former Visit Tampa Bay executive will return to the area to lead Pinellas County’s tourism marketing arm.

Steve Hayes, who spent more than two decades in Tampa Bay tourism marketing, will take over as Visit St. Pete/Clearwater president and CEO on Dec. 16.

For the last six years, Hayes, 56, has held a similar role at Visit Pensacola. County Administrator Barry Burton said Hayes’ knowledge of the Tampa Bay market and his time as the head of another Florida tourism bureau made him the ideal choice.

Burton has been looking for the next CEO since February.

“It was a long wait,” Burton said. “But look at what we got. What a resume."

Hayes started working with Visit Tampa Bay — the tourism bureau for Hillsborough County — in the late 1980s. Over 25 years he held a handful of leadership roles, including executive vice president. He began at Visit Pensacola in 2013.

“I feel very blessed I have this opportunity,” Hayes told the Tampa Bay Times. “There is so much to talk about when it comes to St. Pete-Clearwater. Part of it, I already know the story. The other part, I get to learn more.”

It’s been a bumpy year for leadership at the Pinellas tourism bureau.

Former Visit St. Pete/Clearwater CEO David Downing resigned at the start of the year after Tampa Bay Times reporters began to examine expenses on his county credit card.

Burton selected an interim director — a former Busch Gardens and SeaWorld executive — who lasted two months before leaving to lead a zoo. After that, Burton told the county’s head of solid waste to help manage the tourism bureau as he continued the search.

Burton came out with three CEO finalists after a nationwide hunt in April, but soon decided none were the right fit. Then, another three finalists were announced about a month ago. Among them was Hayes.

“You want to make sure when you’re getting a key leader like this that you feel 100 percent confident,” Burton said.

The CEO of Visit St. Pete/Clearwater manages a nearly $40 million budget. The county collects a 6 percent tourism tax on every overnight stay to get that funding. The remaining money collected — roughly $20 million — pays for capital projects.

Burton said he’s confident Hayes has the fresh ideas and skill to continue growing Pinellas County’s tourism numbers. Bed tax collection is already up about 6 percent so far this year compared to last.

In Pensacola, Hayes managed a budget of less than $10 million — but he thinks that gives him an edge.

“When you have less money,” he said, “you’ve got to be more resourceful.”

Hayes will move to the area with his wife, Mary Hayes, who also works in the tourism industry. The two plan to visit Pinellas this month to look for a new home.


  1. Regina Temple is the new president and CEO at Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point. HCA West Florida
    Read this and more Pasco County business news.
  2. The City Council has called for consultants to design an outdoor concert pavilion with a fixed covering over 4,000 seats in the middle of its proposed overhaul of the downtown waterfront. That decision is causing some friction in the city as officials prepare to present preliminary design drawings to the public. City of Clearwater
    Some in the city are divided over Clearwater’s $64.5 million plan.
  3. Tampa Bay workers are more likely than employees in other metros to quit because of a boss they don’t like, according to a recent survey. Pictured are job seekers at a Tampa job fair in June. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times] JONES  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Tampa Bay and Miami tied for the percentage of employees who quit because of a boss.
  4. Recent sunny day flooding in Shore Acres, a St. Petersburg neighborhood vulnerable to rising sea levels. [Times] Susan Taylor Martin
    The organizations will explore the impact of climate change on Florida.
  5. The University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences - Pasco Extension opened an incubator kitchen on Sept. 23. It's  at 15029 14th Street in Dade City. The goal of the kitchen is to create educational opportunities for food entrepreneurs and help them to start new businesses. Whitney Eleamor (center left) developed the idea for the kitchen. PAIGE FRY  |  Paige Fry
    The ribbon-cutting ceremony was held last week for the Pasco County Extension Service community kitchen.
  6. The Topgolf on Palm River Road in Brandon features over 100 golf bays, a bar, a full food and dessert menu, a rooftop terrace and a large event space. Players can also enjoy free wifi, over 200 HD TVs as well as pool and fooseball tables. [Times (2014)]
    The driving-range filed for permits this week to add on the new course.
  7. A dinner guest at the Maritana Grille at the Don Cesar Hotel contends in a lawsuit filed Friday that she was seriously injured when a waiter poured some of the liquid nitrogen that he was using to prepare a dessert at an adjacent table into her water glass and she drank it. (Times file photo)
    Stacey Wagers contends she was injured while dining at the Maritana Grille last year.
  8. Hernando County community news Tara McCarty
    Plus a health symposium, ribbon cuttings and other Hernando County business news.
  9. A Tampa company has spent nearly $8.8 million acquiring 180 acres north of Shell Point Road in Ruskin. Susan Taylor Martin
    We find the answers in our continuing look at new construction in the Tampa Bay area.
  10. Left to Right: Hospitality panel members Viviana Leyva, Steve Westphal and Jeff Gigante talk about the needs of the hospitality industry in Tampa Bay region during a kickoff of the University of South Florida Hospitality Leadership Program last month. SCOTT KEELER  |   Times
    Restaurant and hotel owners say they have a need for finding and keeping talented workers.