Orlando’s 50 Most Powerful People of 2021: Tourism & Transportation

Meet the leaders in tourism and transportation!

Leader On The Move  |  Politics & Government  |  Business  |  Education  |  Entertainment, Sports, & The Arts |  Tourism & Transportation  |  Philanthropic & Community Voices  |  Ones To Watch


1 Jeff Vahle

President, Walt Disney World Resort

Which Disney character do you most identify with? Woody, from the “Toy Story” movies, lives by a code that guides him in how he treats people and gets things done. Whether leading the group or just being with friends, relationships are key to his success. That theme really resonates with me. What is your favorite Disney attraction? Kilimanjaro Safaris is a tremendous collaboration of our Imagineers, our Animal Sciences team and our Operations cast. Favorite restaurant? California Grill. I knew it first as Top of the World and took my prom date there in high school. It was one of the first fancy restaurants I ever went to. What cause is most important to you? I have a sister who is disabled, so supporting adults with disabilities is very close to my heart. I also volunteer with Give Kids the World Village and serve on their board. The families that stay there are going through some very tough times, but the Village builds hope for them and brings them joy. —JH


2 Casandra Matej

President & CEO Visit Orlando

You served as president of Visit San Antonio for 10 years. Now that you’ve recently moved to Orlando, what is the top item on your to-do list? Since I started in February, I’m really looking forward to experiencing the holiday season in Orlando. I can’t wait to see how we celebrate it here in Central Florida. What’s your vision for Orlando tourism? Long term, I’d like to be the first U.S. destination to hit 100 million visitors in a year. In the short term, it’s all about recovery for the industry and our community. How many attractions and hotels have you visited since moving here? I’ve either toured or stayed in dozens of hotels. I’ve done tours of the destinations and the convention center. And I’ve eaten my way through Central Florida—way too much! Name three qualities that describe you. Collaborative. Approachable. A transparent communicator. What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given? Do not present problems without offering your suggestions for solutions. —JH


3 Bill Davis

President, Universal Orlando Resort

What do you most look forward to as Universal grows? We have a special culture and sense of family at Universal Orlando, and I look forward to preserving that and sharing it with new team members. What is No. 1 on your bucket list? Playing a round at the Augusta National Golf Club. Name one cause that’s most important to you. My wife, Becky, and I fund a small, private scholarship that has special meaning for our family. What is surprising about you? I was the second photographer hired at SeaWorld San Diego. And I was the first photographer set to be laid off during a difficult time we were going through. But instead, I was offered a job in sales—and that is when my career in theme parks really began. Who’s the most influential person in your life? Becky, who has been our family’s anchor throughout our 56 years of marriage—for me, our children and grandchildren. —JH


4 Harris Rosen

President & COO, Rosen Hotels & Resorts

When was your earliest experience in hospitality? My dad was a sign painter and safety engineer at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. He offered me a job—I was around 10 years old—finishing place cards for fancy banquets. He had beautiful handwriting and he made the cards first in pencil, then ink. He asked me to erase the pencil when the ink dried, fold the cards and put them in a shoebox in alphabetical sequence for the banquet manager. He said, “I’ll give you a penny for every card.” I said, “Dad, I’m hired.” What cause is most important to you? Underserved communities. [For 30 years, Rosen has invested in lifting up local communities including Tangelo Park and Parramore.] What is the most adventurous thing you have ever done? Tandem jumps out of an airplane from 14,000 to 15,000 feet. What is your greatest achievement so far? Raising our kids. —JH

5 Christopher Jaskiewicz

President & CEO ICON Park

What is your perfect day at ICON Park? Walking through the promenade under the festoon lights, watching families enjoy the restaurants, bars, attractions, stores and kiosks, and seeing them relax on the front lawn watching The Wheel’s colors. What is something surprising about you? I worked 20 years in Manhattan, but grew up in Orlando. When I was 9, I was a test rider of a water flume ride at a new Disney park named River Country where my dad was the park’s first general manager. How do you stay fit? By having three children and trying to work out or play sports with them, especially my 11-year old. What are you currently reading? The Creek by J.T. Glisson, about life in Florida in the early 1900s, and The Wave Maker, about theme-park visionary George Millay who created SeaWorld and Wet’n Wild. What is a cause that is important to you? Junior Achievement, the world’s oldest organization dedicated to giving young people the knowledge and skills they need to own their economic success. —JH

6 Maria Triscari

President & CEO International Drive Resort Area Chamber of Commerce

List three things that are key to a thriving destination like the I-Drive Resort Area? Growth; seamless, efficient transportation; and a world-class convention center with continuous upgrades to stay competitive. The I-Drive corridor is successful because it constantly transforms itself with new attractions, restaurants and resorts. What is your greatest achievement this past year? Helping I-Drive businesses get through one of the most challenging economic times we have experienced. We are well on our way to a full recovery. It shows how resilient the tourism industry is. What would readers find surprising about you? I was a pearl diver at SeaWorld. That was my first taste of the tourism industry and it’s been my passion for over 30 years. What is the most adventurous thing you’ve ever done? Moved to Florida at age 17 from Pennsylvania, got a job at SeaWorld and put myself through college at UCF. Share the best advice you’ve ever received. Work hard and stay humble. —JH


7 Laura Kelley

Executive Director Central Florida Expressway Authority

Over the last year, how have you met the challenge of operating and maintaining the regional network of expressways? We looked for new ways to deliver convenience to our customers through automated delivery methods. The functionality of our E-PASS phone app was expanded. Reload service lane functionality will be added to cash lanes soon. CFX was the first in the nation to launch a transponder called UNI that allows customers to travel across 19 states with one toll account. We are particularly excited about the State Road 528/Semoran Boulevard interchange that is being transformed as a signature gateway from the Orlando International Airport to the Central Florida area, and the project is ahead of schedule. Three words that describe you? Listener, collaborator, grandma. What are you currently reading? I am re-reading Self-Reliance: The Wisdom of Ralph Waldo Emerson as Inspiration for Daily Living. I read it as a teenager and thought it would be fun to read it again 40-plus years later. How do you stay fit? I like the outdoors: running, hiking, paddleboarding and kayaking. —PL


8 Phil Brown

CEO, Orlando International Airport

What are your plans now that you’re retiring after more than 10 years at OIA? My plans are still in flux. What has the pandemic taught you? The pandemic has taught me the importance of focusing on fundamentals—making sure the planes are landing and taking off and that passengers and employees are safe and secure. What is your favorite time of day? Early morning just before sunrise. What are the greatest rewards of your career? I’ve been fortunate to work with dedicated people. If you could be anywhere else, where would it be? Hawaii. What is your best defense against stress? Working out with my personal trainer on FaceTime. If you could have chosen any other career, what would it have been? I would have been a bartender. —CH

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