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Gary Sain Remembered as the ‘Can Do’ Leader of Visit Orlando


Orlando, FL – Tributes poured into Orlando from throughout the exhibition industry after Gary Sain, the respected head of the city’s convention and visitors bureau, died unexpectedly of an apparent heart attack on May 4 at the age of 61.

As president and CEO of Visit Orlando since 2007, Sain and his team positioned the Florida city and its massive Orange County Convention Center (OCCC) as a vibrant host city for not only large-scale trade shows but the many smaller specialized events that were also the bread and butter of its business.

“Gary served as our community’s brand ambassador, working tirelessly on behalf of Orlando,” said Visit Orlando Chairman Paul Tang. “Visit Orlando and our community lost a wonderful leader and friend.”

Industry friends will be travelling to Orlando May 11-12 for memorial services at Northland Church [See sidebar below for detailed information about funeral arrangements].

A Reliable Partner Who Opened Doors for Organizers
“He was a true visionary in the trade show industry and probably had the best marketing mind of anyone I have known,” said William Carteaux, president and CEO of SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association. “His ability to look at every problem and obstacle as an opportunity was tremendously refreshing.”

Sain’s broad knowledge of the industry, plus his ability and willingness to look at the big picture beyond central Florida, earned him a reputation as a savvy and authoritative voice. He served on the Trade Show Executive (TSE) Exposition Forecasting Board and on the board of directors for the International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE), Meeting Professionals International (MPI) and the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA).

The Family Legacy
Trade shows and tourism were part of Sain’s DNA. His father, Frank Sain, who died just three months earlier, had headed the convention bureaus in Las Vegas and Chicago. In his February eulogy to his dad, Gary fittingly remarked it was what a person accomplished themselves that determined their legacy. “We all come into this world ordinary and it’s how we live our lives, how we serve those we are responsible for and how we love others that will determine if we leave this world extraordinary,” he said.

Show managers and organizers who had made Orlando part of their rotation, if not a permanent home, told Trade Show Executive that Sain was indeed extraordinary. His enthusiasm and attentiveness permeated throughout the ranks of Visit Orlando and gave them confidence that the city was on their side.

When the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions committed to a ten-year deal to hold its annual IAAPA Attractions Expo in Orlando, it was due in large part to Sain’s willingness to roll up his sleeves and treat every customer as a special guest. “Gary had a big part in making that happen,” said Diane Williams, IAAPA director of events and meetings. “He looked at us as family and that’s how he made us feel.”

SPI’s Carteaux said Sain was “instrumental” in bringing the massive triennial NPE2012 to Florida after being held in Chicago for four decades. “Gary took some huge risks to ensure our success that could have not only cost him his job but also his reputation,” he said. “As I got to know him better along our journey, I realized there was no way he would allow SPI or himself to fail in helping create the special event we had with NPE2012.”

Sain was also not one to forget his long-standing customers in the rush to find new business. Bob Harar, president of National Trade Productions, said his company’s Coverings show had found a home in Orlando. “Gary and his team were instrumental in their promotion of Orlando as an unmatched destination for conventions,” he said. “Their aggressive approach and flexibility have been significant to Coverings’ decision to continually return to Orlando.”

“Gary Sain was one of the greatest ‘cheerleaders’ Orlando has experienced. His passion for tourism and conventions was obvious in every contact with him,” said Ken McAvoy, senior vice president for Reed Exhibitions. “In the five short years since he headed Visit Orlando, he made a lasting impression and will be sorely missed. What he has left in place is a team of true professionals who will not miss a beat.”

Roy Turner, senior vice president and director of GLM’s Surf Expo, called Sain “an outstanding partner” of the surfing industry exhibition that has been held twice a year in Orlando since 1990. “His vision and enthusiasm was infectious,” Turner said. “It resonated throughout Visit Orlando and made it easy for Surf Expo to call Orlando and the Orange County Convention Center home.”

Darlene Gudea, president of Trade Show Executive Media Group, described Sain as dauntless, generous and brimming with ideas. She noted that he was relentless in securing Orlando as the inaugural site of Trade Show Executive’s Fastest 50 Awards & Summit in 2011. “And he delivered more than he promised,” she said, including signing Alex Martins, CEO of the Orlando Magic, as the keynote speaker and promoting the event to show managers and prospective sponsors. Diane Bjorklund, TSE’s vice president of events, said although Sain was eager to bring the Fastest 50 back to Orlando, he was not just a supporter of TSE events on his home turf. “He was thrilled to learn the Gold 100 would be held in Washington, DC this year and rotate between the East and West coasts thereafter,” she said. “He continually sent us new ideas for sessions, speakers, and resorts to host our events. Just last week at ASAE’s Springtime, he enthusiastically offered to moderate and recruit speakers for an International session at the Gold 100,” she said.

Gudea noted that Gary’s trademark was his bright orange tie, symbolizing the Orlando sunshine. “It was as much of a branding tactic as a reflection of his warm smile and positive attitude,” Gudea said. “In fact, the Sain family has asked friends to wear something orange to the funeral on Saturday as a tribute to Gary.”

Orlando Sunshine
Show managers and others in the industry were in agreement that Gary Sain was no one-man band when it came to hosting trade shows in Orlando. While the second-largest convention center in the U.S. and plenty of outside attractions and inviting weather certainly helps the city’s appeal, Sain also left behind a Visit Orlando that shared his priorities.

“Gary was a true professional who was passionate about his mission to expand the brand awareness of Orlando,” said OCCC General Manager Thomas Ackert. “He forged relationships with his staff, his partners and with our clients. He was constantly focused on delivering the services promised.”

The IAAPA’s Williams said Visit Orlando did indeed reflect Sain’s personality, even among long-time employees who had been working for the agency long before he took over. But the corporate culture at Visit Orlando by no means minimized Sain’s personal accomplishments. “That all comes from the top,” she said. “It came from his leadership.”

Williams told TSE she had seen Sain at ASAE’s Springtime meeting in Washington, DC just days before his untimely death. She said he seemed his usual self — upbeat and networking effortlessly as he had done on countless occasions when he got together with industry colleagues. “The Orlando sun really shined when he was in the room,” she said.

Rick Simon, president and CEO of United Service Companies, said, “I knew Gary for well over 30 years; he was always a gentleman. I knew him as a team member in general service contracting when he was in that role at GES. I knew him as a competitor when I was Chairman of another CVB when he was in his role at Visit Orlando. But no matter what role he served, he was always a friend and a class act.

“To our friends in Orlando, I send my condolences for this tremendous loss for all of us, a loss for which mere words are inadequate,” Simon said. “I mourn his absence but fondly remember our 30+ year friendship.”

Reach Paul Tang at (407) 363-5872 or; Tom Ackert at (407) 685-9800 or; Steven Hacker at (972) 458-8002 or; Diane Williams at (703) 836-4800, x779, or; Bill Carteaux at (202) 974-5200 or; Bob Harar at (800) 687-7469 or; Roy Turner at (678) 781-7979 or; Larry Henrich at (407) 363-5800 or; Rick Simon at (800) 248-8558 or

Gary Sain’s Memorial Service and Funeral Arrangements Are Open to Trade Show Professionals

Here are the details about Gary’s memorial services:

  • Visitation will take place from 3:00 to 7:00 p.m. on Friday, May 11, at Baldwin Fairchild Funeral Home, 301 N.E. Ivanhoe Blvd., Orlando, FL 32804 (407) 898-8111.
  • Additional visitation will take place at 10:00 a.m., immediately prior to the Celebration of Life and Funeral Service set for 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, May 12, at Northland, A Church Distributed, located at 530 Dog Track Road, Longwood, FL 32759 (407) 949-4000.
  • Immediately following the service, burial will take place at The Palm Cemetery located at 1005 South New York Ave., Winter Park, FL 32789; 407-599-3252.
  • To honor his memory, the family suggests that attendees wear something in Gary’s favorite color – orange.
  • For those traveling to Orlando for Gary’s services, the Rosen Shingle Creek is extending a special Friends & Family rate of $89 per night. Call (407) 996-9939 and ask for reservations, or call reservations directly at (866) 996-6338, ask for Rosen Shingle Creek, and identify the guestroom block as the “Sain Family Memorial.”
  • In lieu of flowers, the family requests that gifts be made in Gary’s honor to one of two funds.

(1) For the Gary C. Sain Memorial Endowed Scholarship for the UCF Rosen College of Hospitality Management, instructions are as follows:
-Gifts using credit cards: Please go to the UCF Foundation Rosen College of Hospitality Management donation UCF. In the first section, “Donation Information,” input the amount of the gift and then in the same section under “Designation,” please choose the “Gary C. Sain Memorial Endowed Scholarship” in the drop down menu. Please complete the rest of the form and click “Donate Now.”

-Checks: Please make checks payable to The UCF Foundation, write “Gary C. Sain Memorial Endowed Scholarship” on the memo line, and mail to: UCF Foundation
12424 Research Parkway, Suite 140
Orlando, FL 32826

-For wire transfers, stock, and mutual fund gifts, please contact Lori Cosmides at or (407) 903-8249.

(2) The Destination & Travel Foundation also has established a memorial fund in the name of Gary C. Sain to honor his leadership and legacy in the destination marketing industry. Donations can be mailed to Destination & Travel Foundation

2025 M St. NW, Suite 500, Washington, DC 20036.You can also donate online at

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