Phillip Jones is stepping down after 15 years as president and CEO of VisitDallas.

According to the DMO, Jones and the VisitDallas Board of Directors came to a mutual decision on the resignation May 8, 2019, with an interim CEO set to be announced May 9.

Jones has led the DMO for 15 years and is a leader in the meetings and conventions industry, frequently appearing in prominent roles and as a major sponsor at meetings industry events. Jones came under fire January 4, 2019, after a negative audit of the DMO was released by Dallas’ city government.

The audit claimed a lack of oversight at the bureau that led to vague metrics measuring the bureau’s performance. Jones’ $700,000 annual compensation also was called into question, along with concerns about his spending on items such as hotel stays, meals, gifts and personal items. Jones countered the findings of the audit.

“It’s important to note that 90 percent of what the audit is finding and recommending deals directly with the city and not with VisitDallas,” Jones told Meetings Today when the January 4 report was released, adding that much of the audit called for new reporting mechanisms, new accountability and new protocols from the city’s side.

“They’re thinking I stayed 18 nights for $17,000, but the reality is I have stayed 50-plus nights for $17,000, each of them with an approved exception and all other 50-plus hotel room stays were within the guidelines and even at a low level,” Jones told Meetings Today after the audit was released, adding that over the period of the audit his meal expenses averaged less than $25 per day and he was on the road selling Dallas more than 100 days per year.

Sam Coats Named Interim CEO of VisitDallas

VisitDallas named Sam Coats interim CEO of the DMO May 9. Coats is a former airline executive who has served as the CEO of six companies, including two airlines and restaurant franchise Schlotzsky's. He is also a former board chairman of the Dallas CVB and is the immediate past chair of the board of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

Coats previously held senior management positions at Braniff, Southwest and Continental airlines. He also has a long history of civic leadership in Dallas.

Dallas Tourism Accolades in the Jones Era

Hotel room-night bookings increased five-fold during Jones’ tenure and the destination moved from No. 18 to No. 6 in the U.S. in terms of tourism visits, according to VisitDallas.

Jones was also credited for re-branding Dallas as a global destination and spearheading the creation of the city’s Tourism Public Improvement District (DTPID), which levied a 2 percent assessment on occupied hotel room rates. The DTPID is expected to bring in up to $15 million per year to market Dallas as a meetings and tourism destination.

The DMO also praised Jones for leading the statewide charge to defeat the so-called “Bathroom Bill” on two separate occasions. The Texas bill sought to ban transgendered people from using restrooms that did not correlate with the sex on their birth certificate.

The board of VisitDallas thanked Jones for his service in a statement released May 8.

“The Board is thankful to Phillip for his 15 years of leadership and great career at VisitDallas,” said Mark Woelffer, VisitDallas board chair, in the statement.

“We are proud of the work VisitDallas has accomplished during Phillip’s tenure to promote Dallas, which is now a top 10 destination nationally for meetings, conventions, sporting events and leisure travel,” he added. “As Phillip has decided to pursue other opportunities, we wish him the very best.”

In the statement, Jones said he was thankful for his time leading the DMO and is leaving it well positioned to achieve further success.

“It has been a privilege to lead VisitDallas during an important period of growth for the organization and now it’s time for my next challenge,” Jones said.

“Together with my colleagues at VisitDallas, the City of Dallas and partners across the hospitality and tourism industry, we have positioned Dallas as the top visitor destination in Texas for meetings and events, and one of the top convention and visitor destinations in the nation,” he added. “I’m proud of our accomplishments and know the organization is on track for continued success.”

[Related Content: VisitDallas Counters Negative City Audit Findings]