Cleo Battle To Succeed Louisville Tourism President and CEO Karen Williams
Louisville Tourism is about to get a new president and CEO. Cleo Battle, the CVB’s current chief operating officer, will assume his new role upon the forthcoming retirement of current president and CEO Karen Williams, who will close out her 30-year tenure at Louisville Tourism June 30.
This is Battle’s second time filling Williams’ shoes. The 34-year hospitality veteran was appointed executive vice president in 2013 before being named COO in 2019.
Prior to coming to Louisville, Battle spent 12 years as vice president of sales and services for the Richmond Convention & Visitors Bureau in Virginia, where he also served as its director of sales and sales manager. A Denver native, he began his hospitality career in the hotel industry working for Embassy Suites, Holiday Inn and Sheraton Hotels.
A graduate of Metropolitan State College with a degree in Hotel/Restaurant Management, Battle earned his Masters of Business Administration in 1997 from Averett College in Virginia. He is both a Certified Destination Management Executive and Certified Association Sales Executive.
"I am most looking forward to implementing our recently launched Destination Strategic Plan and helping get Louisville’s once-thriving convention business into a recovery and full rebound state," Battle said.
Williams began her 40-year hospitality career as a sales manager at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Atlanta. After opening 18 hotels worldwide, she returned to her native Louisville, where she served 23 years at what was then the Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau, retiring as executive vice president in 2012 and returning as CEO in 2014.
Under her leadership, the Bourbon City evolved into a prominent events destination attracting highly sought-after conventions and tourism, with the city experiencing record visitation growth prior to the pandemic, according to Louisville Tourism Board Chair Donald Lassere.
“Working side by side with Karen for eight years, we know Cleo has the right combination of experience, leadership and vision to help our community maximize our opportunities as destinations like ours move into a recovery and rebound phase,” Lassere said.
Williams was also instrumental in working with the city, state and tourism stakeholders to finance and support the renovation of the Kentucky International Convention Center. The facility has helped position Louisville well in a competitive market and will help the destination rebound once events and tourism return post-pandemic, said Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer.
“It would be impossible to overstate Karen Williams’ impact on the record tourism growth that Louisville has seen in recent years, with a pre-pandemic peak of 19 million visitors in 2019,” Mayor Fischer said. “Beyond being one of our community’s most optimistic, dynamic cheerleaders, Karen brought incredible skills, experience and sense of collaboration to the job.”
Williams has served on the boards of Leadership Louisville, MPI, Destinations International and as APEX Commissioner with the Convention Industry Council. She also served as chair for the Destination & Travel Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to serving the interest of destination marketing professionals and highlighting the impact of travel around the world.
In recognition of the diverse achievements and longevity of her hospitality career, Williams received the Dan Mangeot award in 2012, which is awarded to an individual who has greatly contributed to Louisville’s tourism initiatives.
Fischer added: “I will miss Karen for so many reasons, but I am confident in her board, the nationally recognized team they have built — and in her successor, Cleo Battle, who has worked alongside Karen for several years. I appreciate Karen staying until summer to help ensure a smooth transition and I wish her much rest — and travel — in retirement!”