SALT LAKE CITY — The Governor’s Office of Economic Development announced Friday that Vicki Varela has been chosen as the new managing director of Tourism, Film and Global Branding at the Utah Office of Tourism.

She will replace longtime managing director Leigh von der Esch, who retired last month.

Varela served as spokeswoman and deputy chief of staff to Gov. Mike Leavitt for eight years. She has been in the "persuasion" business for most of her career, during which she organized many successful campaigns, including the statewide ballot initiative that positioned Utah to host the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.

She will transition into her new role over the next several weeks as she goes through the process of closing her public relations firm, Varela Strategic Communications Inc.

“We are very pleased that Vicki was willing to step out of her successful career in the private sector. It speaks to the love and passion she has for the state of Utah,” said GOED executive director Spencer Eccles. “Her extensive strategic communications and branding experience will further enable us to unify the state under a global marketing and branding strategy.”

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Varela has led the development of local brands such as the Kennecott Land Daybreak community and the Prosperity 2020 movement, which is focused on improving Utah’s workforce readiness and educational outcomes. She said that she looks forward to continuing the successful marketing efforts implemented under von der Esch.

“Branding Utah is a communicator’s dream. My role will be to tell the stories that persuade tourists and business leaders alike to make Utah their destination,” Varela said. “I am honored to join the Herbert administration to help position Utah on the world stage.”