CLEARWATER, Fla. (FOX 13) - David Downing, the CEO of Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, which markets Pinellas County as a vacation destination, is stepping down.
Downing, who has directed one of the most successful tourism and marketing agencies in the state, is leaving next month to pursue an ownership stake in a private tourism agency that will also be based in the Tampa Bay area.
The resignation comes amid concerns following a Tampa Bay Times investigation requesting records related to his travel expenses and charges on a county credit card. According to the report, $300,000 was spent on travels across the globe over the last five years, which includes thousands of dollars spent wining and dining.
“This is sales 101,” Downing told FOX 13 Tuesday. “Every sales organization in the world, all over the U.S., all of our competitive set, this is the same thing.”
Many within the Pinellas County government are quick to jump to his defense, including Berry Burton, county administrator.
“David Downing has been a God-send to Pinellas County for many years,” Burton said. “He has brought in record levels of tourism…he’s out traveling the world.”
Visit St. Pete/Clearwater has offices worldwide, including Germany and in the United Kingdom. Expense records from his travels are public, however, there’s question over exactly who Downing was wining and dining. Burton said there would be more oversight moving forward.
“Moving forward, how can we improve what is already a transparent process,” Burton said.
Downing says his job performance speaks in the numbers. During his time as CEO, tourism tax dollars in Pinellas grew by 78 percent, including a 9-percent jump last year.
“We are very proud of the accomplishments here," he said. "[Last year we saw] $1 billion in hotel room sales for the first year ever.”
Downing says his resignation has nothing to do with the Times investigation.
“No, this is something I’ve been working on for a couple months,” he insisted
Downing’s last day with Visit St. Pete/Clearwater is February 1.