Gary Sain, 61, president and CEO of Visit Orlando, passed away suddenly and unexpectedly on Friday evening after giving opening remarks at a charitable event for which he was event chair, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida's Celebrate the Children fundraiser, held at the Orlando World Center Marriott.

Paul Tang, Visit Orlando’s chairman, who sent out the announcement on Saturday morning, said Sain left the banquet after his remarks and collapsed before being transported to the Florida Hospital Celebration Health, where he was pronounced dead. Tang said an autopsy would be performed.

Sain grew up in the convention and visitors bureau industry, the son of Frank Sain, who ran the Chicago and then Las Vegas bureaus for years, and who died in February at the age of 86.

“Gary was an amazing leader, an amazing industry professional, but maybe even more, he was an amazing human being. He was proud of his team, his family, his community, and his profession. He celebrated the accomplishments of today, but always was thinking of how to make tomorrow even better. I will miss Gary, but will do all that I can to carry his vision and dreams forward,” said Tammi Runzler, senior vice president of convention sales and services, Visit Orlando.

“Gary was a visionary leader and a giant in our industry who worked tirelessly on behalf of Orlando and the travel and tourism industry,” commented Michael D. Gehrisch, president and CEO, Destination Marketing Association International. “He spent his entire career working in hospitality and was an avid supporter of DMAI, U.S. Travel, the Destination & Travel Foundation, International Association of Exhibitions and Events, and many other industry organizations. Just recently, Gary worked with the Destination & Travel Foundation to establish the Frank C. Sain Memorial Fund in memory of his father, who passed away in February.”

In his announcement, Tang noted that Sain was honored numerous times for his contributions to the hospitality industry. “Visit Orlando team, our destination partners, and our community have lost a wonderful leader and friend. He will truly be missed by all that knew him.”

“I was shocked to hear the news about Gary, not least because I’d just been about to talk with him about showcasing at our Congress the highly innovative strategy he’s created with the Orlando healthcare community and their links to national and international medical meetings,” said Martin Sirk, CEO, International Congress and Convention Association. “This is exactly the kind of powerful demonstration of the broader impact of meetings—their role in knowledge transfer and creation, medical and scientific advances, and identifying concrete solutions to societal challenges—that is needed to counter the negativity of media stories about GSA [General Services Administration] and other poorly conceived meetings. His leadership, advocacy, and creativity will be sorely missed.”

Sain joined the Orlando CVB—later renamed Visit Orlando—in 2007, where he is credited with helping Orlando reach a record of 51.5 million visitors in 2010, the first U.S. destination to surpass the 50 million visitor milestone. Prior to that, he was executive vice president, chief marketing officer, and partner of Yesawich, Pepperdine, Brown & Russell, an Orlando-based international advertising and public relations agency specializing in the travel, leisure, and lifestyle categories. He also served as executive vice president of sales and marketing for GES Exposition Services; senior vice president of sales, marketing, and passenger services for Premier Cruise Line, aka The Big Red Boat; and assistant vice president of sales for Hyatt Hotels Corp. Prior to joining Hyatt, he served as corporate vice president, sales and marketing, for Ritz-Carlton properties in Washington, D.C./N.Y. and for the Whitehall/Tremont Hotels in Chicago, in addition to opening the Stouffers Hotels in Chicago and Atlanta as director of marketing.

Sain served in volunteer positions with numerous industry organizations and boards, including the U.S. Travel Association and Brand USA Marketing Advisory Council; Visit Florida; the Central Florida Hotel & Lodging Association; and IAEE. He’s also served on the advisory council for the Federal Reserve Bank; and was a member of the Professional Convention Management Association, Meeting Professionals International, and American Society of Association Executives.

His professional designations included Certified Travel Counselor, Certified Hospitality Marketing Executive, and Certified Travel Marketing Executive (CTME).

Locally, Sain served on the advisory council of the University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management, and as a member of the board of directors for Florida Citrus Sports, Salvation Army, and the Central Florida Boy Scouts of America.

He is survived by his mother, Elizabeth Sain; wife Pam; and daughters Vanessa Sain-Dieguez (Luis) and Olivia.

Gary Sain will be remembered and honored as follows:

Friday, May 11
3 p.m. – 7 p.m. EST
Public Viewing
Baldwin-Fairchild Funeral Home
301 Northeast Ivanhoe Blvd.
Orlando, Fla. 32804
(407) 898-8111

Saturday, May 12
10 a.m. Visitation and Viewing
11 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Celebration of Life and Funeral
Northland Church
530 Dog Track Road
Longwood, Fla. 32750
(407) 949-4000

Burial will immediately follow the service at:
Winter Park Palm Cemetery
1005 N. New York Ave.
Winter Park, Fla. 32789

Hotel Information:
Rosen Shingle Creek is offering a special hotel rate of $89 per night. Call (407) 996-9939 and ask for reservations or call for reservations directly at (866) 996-6338. Ask for the Sain Family Memorial rate of $89.

In Memorium
In lieu of flowers, the family asks for consideration of a donation to one of two scholarship funds established in Gary’s name:

UCF Rosen College of Hospitality Management:
An endowed scholarship has been established in memory of Gary C. Sain at the Rosen College of Hospitality Management for students majoring in Event Management with an emphasis in Destination Management. Gary spent his entire career in the hospitality industry and was passionate about supporting students desiring the same career path. He often spoke at the college and was a member of the Dean’s advisory board.

Gifts using credit cards:
Please visit the UCF Foundation Rosen College of Hospitality Management donation Web site. In the first section—Donation Information—input the amount of the gift and then in same section under “Designation” please choose the “Gary C. Sain Memorial Endowed Scholarship” option in the drop-down menu. Please complete the rest of the form and hit the “Donate Now” button.

Checks should be made out to The UCF Foundation and in the memo line, write Gary C. Sain Memorial Endowed Scholarship and mail to: UCF Foundation, 12424 Research Parkway, Suite 140, Orlando, Fla. 32826.

For wire transfers, stock and mutual fund gifts, please contact Lori Cosmides at, (409) 903-8249.

As an expression of remembrance and sympathy, the family requests contributions to the Destination & Travel Foundation in the name of Gary Sain. A memorial fund has been established to honor Gary’s leadership and legacy in the destination marketing industry. Destination & Travel Foundation, 2025 M St. NW Ste. 500, Washington, D.C. 20036.

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