Trade group’s former COO returns after leading American Gaming Association, Consumer Brands Association
Editor’s note: This story was updated June 24, 2022.
As the CEO of two trade groups in the past nine years, Geoff Freeman has deftly handled the toughest challenges in association management—policy divisions and member defections.
But it was the advocacy skills he displayed as a senior executive at the U.S. Travel Association that launched his chief executive journey, first at the American Gaming Association in 2013 and then at the Grocery Manufacturers Association in 2018. Freeman led the rebranding of GMA as the Consumer Brands Association.
Soon the arc of his career will come full circle, as he returns to U.S. Travel as CEO on Sept. 1.
He succeeds his former boss, Roger Dow, who has led the organization for more than 17 years. Freeman’s style of advocacy—less of a Washington, D.C., insider approach than one reliant on public affairs campaign strategies—will be welcome at U.S. Travel, as the association’s National Chair Christine Duffy made clear in a statement announcing the hire.
“Geoff is highly regarded in Washington and well known across our industry for his strategic work to conceive campaigns and programs that opened new pathways for growth in the travel economy,” said Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line and former CEO of the Cruise Lines International Association. “Now, returning to lead the association, Geoff will continue bringing a fresh and strategic approach to advancing the mission of U.S. Travel in its next era.”
Freeman spent more than seven years advocating for the travel industry, first as executive director of the Discover America Partnership, as senior vice president of public affairs at the U.S. Travel Association and finally as executive vice president and COO. (U.S. Travel was created in 2009 when the Travel Industry Association, led by Dow, joined with Travel Business Roundtable and the Discover America Partnership.)
Freeman then became CEO of the American Gaming Association, the trade group for the casino industry. During his tenure, the group opened membership to Native American casinos and the Supreme Court struck down a federal ban on sports betting.
In 2018, Freeman was tapped to lead the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which had been losing key members over issues such as GMO labeling. He made the group leaner and more focused, and one that no longer tried to be all things to all food manufacturers.
U.S. Travel pointed to Freeman’s previous successes, including the Travel Promotion Act of 2009 and the creation of Brand USA, a public-private partnership that markets the U.S. to foreign travelers. His accomplishments also include leading the industry effort behind the creation of TSA PreCheck and establishing the Meetings Mean Business Coalition, according to the association.
As head of U.S. Travel, Freeman will speak for an industry battered by the pandemic. The group has spent recent years advocating for policies it believes will reboot leisure and business travel, including the recent repeal of a government requirement that international travelers get tested for COVID before coming to the U.S.
Public disclosure documents filed with the IRS show Dow took home $2.3 million in 2020 as CEO of U.S. Travel, which reported $31 million in revenue. At the $14 million-revenue Consumer Brands Association, Freeman’s take-home pay was nearly $1.9 million in 2020.
Heidrick & Struggles assisted in the search. The Consumer Brands Association said it would start working with Freeman on a transition plan and on finding his successor.