Visit Philadelphia's CEO Jeff Guaracino has Died at 48

Wednesday December 29, 2021

Jeff Guaracino, the CEO of Visit Philadelphia and a tourism leader who worked to boost the economies of Philly and Atlantic City, died Tuesday after fighting cancer. He was 48, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer.

"As the head of Visit Philadelphia — the region's official tourism marketing agency — Guaracino was in charge of drawing visitors to the city's landmarks, hotels, and restaurants. He has led the group since 2018 and recently oversaw campaigns and partnerships to rebuild the hospitality and tourism sector in the wake of the pandemic," writes the Inquirer.

He died peacefully in his sleep, his family wrote on Facebook, with the following message:

"With heavy hearts we inform you that we lost a cherished family member, partner and deeply loyal friend.

"After a fierce battle with cancer, Jeff died peacefully yesterday at home in his beloved city of Philadelphia.

"Jeff was an inspiring leader, passionate traveler, skilled author and writer, teacher, learner, mentor, and role model.

"We will miss him dearly. In the days to come we will post more information including where you can make a donation to Jeff's favorite charities.

"Feel free to share an anecdote, photo or special memory you have with Jeff."

Before his position at Visit Philadelphia, the Philly native was the chief executive of nonprofit Welcome America, orchestrating the annual collection of July 4 events in Philadelphia. He previously was the executive director of the Atlantic City Alliance (ACA), a New Jersey marketing agency that promoted the gambling resort amid casino closures and Hurricane Sandy. He notably led efforts to correct erroneous reports that the 2012 storm destroyed Atlantic City's famed boardwalk.

He was recruited by Mayor Jim Kenney to return to Philadelphia in 2016 to run Welcome America. Guaracino extended the festival to a week-long celebration that tied in the city's museums, offered free movie screenings, and honored hometown heroes — in addition to fireworks and concerts — said Geoff Gordon, northeast regional president for Live Nation.

"That was a huge passion for him, to get people from around the world, around the region, and really highlighting what Philadelphia has to offer," Gordon said. "I think that was one of the many events that he touched and reimagined."

He authored two books: 2007's "Gay and Lesbian Tourism: The Essential Guide to Marketing" and 2017's "Handbook of LGBT Tourism and Hospitality: A Guide for Business Practice, "which he co-authored with Ed Salvato. He authored a travel column for the Philadelphia Gay News, too, and helped found Philadelphia chapter of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.

There are no funeral arrangements yet. He is survived by his brother, Jerry.

Hours before he died, Guaracino got to see his beloved city one last time. He asked a friend to drive him through Center City to see the Christmas tree outside City Hall, Joanne Calabria, a close friend and former vice president of public affairs for CBS TV stations, told the Inquirer.

"He was so happy," she said. "It was almost as though he was saying goodbye to the city he loved so much."

Tributes poured out on Facebook:

His friend Bruce Yelk wrote:??"My heart is broken. My bff, Jeff Guaracino, passed last night.

This is such a huge loss for me, his family, friends and the City of Philadelphia.

"We traveled this road of life together through every major milestone for 30+ years. I can't even possibly do him justice trying to describe what he meant to me and Philadelphia. He was a true friend: Kind, smart, caring, honest, and loyal like no other."

Michael Klein wrote: "Absolutely gutted by the death of Jeff Guaracino, the hard-charging, ebullient creative genius who did so much for Philly tourism over the last two decades as well as his sideline passion, the gay travel industry."

And Mark Segal honored his friend: "My dear friend Jeff Guaracino passed away yesterday after a long illness. We met when he was 20 and an intern at KYW-TV. He was brilliant, compassionate pragmatic, and creative with an incredible outrageous sense of humor, but most of all passionate about Philadelphia. A few days ago I saw Jeff for what we both knew would be the last time. Jeff first told me he was at peace Jeff then did what we always did, we made each other laugh. Jeff, I promise not to mourn you, Instead i'll celebrate the life you gave to your city and community."