Visit Orlando

Four Decades of Leadership at Orlando International Airport

Q&A with Carolyn Fennell

One of Central Florida’s most respected corporate communications professionals, Carolyn Fennell is senior director of public affairs and community relations at the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority. She has seen and overseen a lot of progress at Orlando International Airport since joining the organization in 1980. Below, she reflects on insights gained over the course of a career in which women have made tremendous advancements in the workforce.

What is the biggest change you have seen for women in your line of work?

While still room for more, it has been encouraging to see more women in the transportation, travel and hospitality industry taking on executive management positions. In these industries that depend on fulfilling “expectations” and providing the elements often of a lifetime experience, the ability to efficiently plan, create and execute with “spirit” an unforgettable memory is a talent that many women can bring to the industry.

Which life principles guide and inspire you?

I’m guided by five major principles in my life: hard work, treasuring the special moments (whether personal or professional), gratitude, motivation by those who blazed the trail before me and faith in God. As we all progress on our life journey, it’s very important to remember those who helped us, and support and encourage those who come after us. One of the strongest drivers for me has been to take risks and stand strong for my beliefs, whether in a person or a cause. 

From a branding perspective, what is the secret to Orlando International Airport’s success?

As the gateway to the region, our design concept for infrastructure development reflects the Central Florida environment. This, along with strong airport leadership and staff supporting a commitment to customer service, is highlighted as the uniqueness of “The Orlando Experience.” As a result, Orlando International Airport was ranked by J.D. Power and Associates as “Highest in Customer Satisfaction for Mega Airports” in 2017. By building strong community support and relationships, we’ve been able to help grow the economy of our region, from tourism and conventions to health services and a myriad of other industries. 

What community causes are important to you?

There’s a continuing need for growing diverse personnel representation in government, as well as the travel and hospitality industry. It’s my desire always to help open a “window” for a view of new career opportunities for youth and women. There are so many platforms and causes that need volunteers; I would like to have more hours in a day. 

Any advice for up-and-coming female professionals?

Study your industry. Be a subject matter expert in some segment. Never stop seeking, researching and updating opportunities for growth by traveling to other parts of the world. I would advise women, particularly, to know “who you are” and demand the dignity and respect deserved in interacting in a local, as well as global, environment. Find mentors, and never forget to show gratitude to those who helped you, whether colleagues or staff. Don’t forget to do something special for yourself each day… and find “quiet time.”

By the Numbers:

Orlando International Airport

44 Million

passengers over the past 12 months

# 4

airport in the United States by land size

14,000 Acres

available for current and future expansion


potential rail systems supported by new Intermodal Terminal Facility

16 Gates

coming in 2020 to new South Terminal


mega-airport in North America for customer satisfaction*

George AgUel

President & CEO of Visit Orlando


Carolyn Fennell and Kathie Canning have elevated Orlando as a global destination.

A recent report by Citrix Systems ranked Orlando the nation’s fifth-best city for businesswomen looking to pursue a successful career. That is certainly evident from this issue of i4Business, as our region boasts a tremendous amount of talented female executives across a wide range of vocations.

In the travel and tourism industry, Carolyn Fennell and Kathie Canning (both members of the Central Florida Hospitality Hall of Fame) are shining examples. For them, and many others, Orlando has been the perfect place to launch — and maintain — a rewarding career.

Fennell, profiled at left, actually got her start at ABC News in London, where she was a production assistant for Peter Jennings. After taking a publicist job at Walt Disney World, it was on to the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, where her 38 years of leadership have helped Orlando International Airport earn considerable distinction. In her “spare time,” she has also chaired the Jacksonville branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta and served as a mentor to numerous young professionals.

Canning began work as a sales and marketing manager at the Orange County Convention Center in 1985. She went on to become deputy general manager, then general manager and, finally, executive director of the second-largest convention center in the United States. Canning, who retired last month, oversaw major projects that continue to enhance Orlando’s status in tradeshows and conventions.

On behalf of Visit Orlando and our 1,200 member companies, thank you, Carolyn Fennell and Kathie Canning, for contributing so much to our industry and community. Your career success has made our destination stronger than ever.

About the author

i4 Business

i4 Business

I4 Business magazine has become one of the most trusted voices for and about the Central Florida business community. Each month through our print and digital platforms, we provide access to meet, to learn from and to learn about some of the incredible entrepreneurs and business leaders, along with economic trends that are shaping our region.

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