Louisville Tourism president and CEO Karen Williams has announced her retirement, after 30 years at the convention and visitor's bureau, and COO Cleo Battle has been selected to lead the organization, effective July 1.
Williams has worked in the hospitality industry for more than four decades. Her career began as a sales manager at the Ritz-Carlton, Atlanta. She then spent 23 years at the Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau, before retiring as executive vice president in 2012 and returning as president and CEO in 2014. Along the way she has served on the boards of Meeting Professionals International, Destinations International, Leadership Louisville and the Events Industry Council's APEX Commission.
Battle also has been serving the industry for decades. He brings more than 34 years of experience to the new position, including eight years at Louisville Tourism. This is his second time filling William's role, as he was took her spot as executive vice president in 2013; he was named COO in 2019. Prior to joining Louisville Tourism, Battle spent 17 years at the Richmond Convention & Visitors Bureau in Virginia.
When he takes over the position in July, Battle will join only a handful of Black CVB CEOs in the United States. According to research from Black Meetings & Tourism, only nine of the nation's 700 CVBs currently are headed by Black people. Battle has been heavily involved in efforts to enhance diversity within the industry, and currently leads the Black Tourism Advisory Council, which was launched by Louisville Tourism in July.
"Under Karen’s leadership, the Louisville landscape evolved with greater opportunities to incent highly sought-after conventions and tourism, and the city was experiencing record growth in visitation prior to the pandemic," said Louisville Tourism board chair Donald Lassere, president and CEO of the city's Muhammad Ali Center. "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."