San Diego leaders reached an agreement last week that will restore funding to the San Diego Tourism Authority, allowing the CVB to avoid a looming shutdown and mass layoffs. San Diego Mayor Bob Filner and the city’s Tourism Marketing District (TMD)—a private, nonprofit board appointed by city hoteliers and responsible for most of the CVB’s funding—had been deadlocked over the $30 million generated annually by a 2 percent tax on hotel guest rooms. After a judge upheld Filner’s ability to withhold the money, a veto-proof majority on the city council approved a new measure intended to force Filner to agree to the original funding deal passed back in November.
In the end, the two sides compromised, with the TMD agreeing to new rules governing its use of funds and Filner backing off some of his demands. The mayor had been seeking a salary cap that would have limited pay for CVB officials, but he settled for more transparency in reporting salaries. The council will set a hearing to study wages for hotel employees, which Filner had sought to boost. The TMD agreed to put about $6 million toward an upcoming centennial celebration in Balboa Park. Finally, the city’s largest hotels agreed to cover the expense of refunding hotel guests if lawsuits that seek to overturn the room tax are successful. utsandiego.com
A San Diego judge has sided with Mayor Bob Filner in a dispute over $30 million in tourism marketing funds, throwing the future of the San Diego Tourism Authority into question. The newly elected Democratic mayor has withheld his signature from an agreement the City Council approved in November. The five-year plan gives funds raised by city’s 2 percent hotel room tax to the San Diego Tourism Marketing District (TMD), a private, nonprofit board appointed by city hoteliers. The TMD in turn is responsible for 80 percent of the CVB’s budget. With its funding in question, the CVB has canceled a $5 million advertising campaign and issued layoff notices to 85 employees. That’s almost the entire staff—everyone except for 15 salespeople who book major events at the San Diego Convention Center. Their funding is covered under a separate agreement worked out last year (although Filner also wants to reverse that decision, too).
The Tourism Marketing District filed a lawsuit to force Filner to release the funds, but Superior Court Judge Timothy Taylor’s preliminary ruling says the mayor doesn’t have to sign the agreement. The ruling hinged on one tiny word: The council’s resolution authorizes the mayor to enter into “an agreement,” not “the agreement.” Filner doesn’t like the terms of the deal and has offered a counterproposal that calls for salary caps and more protection for hotel workers, which the TMD rejected earlier this week. The City Council plans to pass a new motion on Tuesday, although Filner could veto it. The TMD also may appeal the judge’s ruling, though that process could take months. In the meantime, unless a compromise is worked out, the CVB says it will have to shut down in May. utsandeigo.com
Visit Denver is the first CVB in the world to be certified as meeting standards for destination selection outlined in the APEX/ASTM Environmentally Sustainable Meeting Standards. Developed by the Convention Industry Council (CIC) and ASTM International—a standards organization formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials—the APEX standards were released last year as a set of documents designed to promote responsible, environmental and social practices in the meetings industry. The Green Meetings Industry Council is now developing certifications for event suppliers based on the standards, which cover nine sectors in the industry, from accommodations to transportation. Taken together, they are designed to cover the environmental impact related to all aspects of planning an event, including the sustainability practices of organizations that assist in the destination-selection process, such as CVBs. The standard outlines specific, voluntary criteria in such categories as energy, air quality and water. denver.org
The San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau is the latest CVB to change its name to one that doesn’t include the initials CVB. On Tuesday, the organization officially became the San Diego Tourism Authority. The change will not affect the private, nonprofit corporation’s website, sandiego.org. In addition to marketing the greater San Diego area as a destination for meetings and tourism, the authority also took charge of sales and marketing for the San Diego Convention Center last year. In addition to its headquarters in San Diego, it also has satellite sales offices in the Washington, DC, area and Chicago. sandiego.org
Visit Orlando has updated its online resource for meeting planners. The overhaul of orlandomeeting.com included changes to the site’s visuals, structure and navigation, intended to make it a more effective, easier-to-use tool for professionals looking to research, book and plan events in the Orlando area. The site includes news on venues and attractions, hotel listings, RFP submission forms and other planning tools. visitorlando.com
The Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau launched a redesigned website, visitmusiccity.com, offering features to help visitors discover the city’s music, neighborhoods and diversity. Among the offerings is an online radio station that plays a selection of music representing the city’s local artists and the genres in which they work. Other features include a dynamic design that adjusts based on the whether the user is viewing the site from a desktop computer, tablet or smartphone; a stronger focus on neighborhoods and things to do; and a virtual bulletin board with updates, feeds from social networks and information targeted to specific types of markets, including meetings business. The CVB also is working on a section with information, images and video for meeting planners, which will be added within the next few months. visitmusiccity.com
Add another convert to the list of CVBs that have changed their names to Visit (your city’s name here). The Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association is now doing business as Visit Indy. The name change, as well as a refocused brand strategy that includes a new positioning statement and marketing materials, is the result of almost a year’s worth of research. The organization sought input from focus groups of leisure travelers from other Midwest cities, meeting professionals and local residents about how to better market Indianapolis as a tourism and meetings destination. One thing almost everyone could agree on: They like the city’s shortened nickname. The organization’s board is expected to formally adopt the Visit Indy name at its September board meeting. visitindy.com
The U.S. Travel Association is planning a tribute to former Visit Orlando CEO and President Gary Sain, who died in May. The event is 6 p.m. June 26 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC. Tickets begin at $250, with proceeds benefitting a scholarship fund set up in Sain’s honor at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. In addition to U.S. Travel and Visit Orlando, most of the major industry associations—including the International Association of Exhibitions and Events, American Society of Association Executives, Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International, Professional Convention Management Association, Destination Marketing Association International, Destination DC, Meeting Professionals International and Plastic Industry Trade Association—are pitching in as members of the events’ steering committee. cvent.com
Visit Orlando CEO and President Gary Sain unexpectedly died on Friday night at age 61. Sain collapsed shortly after giving the opening remarks at a fundraising event he was chairing for the Boys & Girls of Club of Central Florida at the Orlando World Center Marriott. The exact cause of death has not been determined.
Sain joined Visit Orlando in 2007 after working for decades in Orlando’s hospitality industry, overseeing an effort to reorganize and rename the destination-marketing agency. Orlando leaders including Mayor Buddy Dyer said Sain deserved credit for helping Orlando reach the point that it could claim to be the most-visited city in the United States. The greater Orlando area attracted a record-breaking 51.5 million visitors in 2010, escalating an ongoing rivalry with New York City over which destination sees more annual tourists. The agency said it will begin a national search for a new leader after Sain’s funeral. Chief Operating Officer Larry Henrichs will oversee operations in the interim. orlandosentinel.com
The United States now has its own theme song—more or less—composed by Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash. The song, “Land of Dreams,” is part of the first-ever comprehensive marketing campaign to promote the U.S. as a travel destination. Brand USA, a public-private partnership between the U.S. government and travel industry that Congress authorized in 2010, launched the campaign this week at the U.S. Travel Association’s annual International Pow Wow trade show in Los Angeles. Its marketing strategy will include TV, digital, print and billboard advertisements, beginning with a $12.3 million budget directed at the United Kingdom, Japan and Canada. Video-based ads feature Cash, the daughter of country legend Johnny Cash, singing her song under the Brooklyn Bridge. The song also is available as a free download. thebrandusa.com
Without a public tourism office, an alliance representing the travel industry in Washington state is stepping up to take on the business of promoting the destination to visitors. Last year Washington became the only state to close its tourism office, eliminating all $1.8 million in funding as part of wide-ranging budget cuts. The Washington Tourism Alliance, a private effort representing 425 members, was formed in response. It is now proposing what is essentially a self-imposed tax on the industry, asking the state to collect money from hotels, restaurants, rental-car agencies, retailers and attractions for a fund that the alliance would administer. The alliance intends to work with travel-industry groups to create a plan that would generate between $7.5 million and $15 million annually and present it to the legislature by next year. seattletimes.com
The letterhead for Los Angeles’ CVB just got a bit less cluttered. LA Inc. The Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau this week changed its name to the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board. In a statement, President and CEO Mark Liberman said the board decided to drop the LA Inc. name because it didn't identify the industry it serves and because the abbreviation of Los Angeles was unclear to some international visitors—although the Los Angeles Times noted that it may also have something to do with the popularity of the TLC reality TV series LA Ink. The newspaper reports that the LA Inc. part of the organization's name was just 10 years old; before that, the it was known simply as the Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau. discoverlosangeles.com
Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI) has expanded its membership rules to include national, state and provincial tourism organizations. Effective immediately, groups such as the Mexico Tourism Board and Visit Florida can join the CVBs and other local organizations that make up the trade association. DMAI’s membership overwhelmingly voted for the change to the bylaws, which now recognize promotional organizations representing any political division or subdivision, including country, nation, province, state, region, metropolitan area, parish, borough, town, district, county or city. destinationmarketing.org
The San Diego City Council agreed Tuesday to give control of marketing and sales for the city’s convention center to the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau. The move was proposed by Mayor Jerry Sanders to advance a $520 million expansion of the 615,701-square-foot San Diego Convention Center, which hosts more than 200 events annually, including Comic-Con International. Most of the plan would be paid for by an additional 3% tax on hotel rooms, but hotel owners said they would not support the increase unless they had more say in the center’s operations.
The move redirects $3.1 million in funds from the San Diego Convention Center Corporation to the CVB, nearly doubling the CVB’s marketing and group-sales budget. Convention center staff will retain control over events booked less than 18 months in advance. The council approved the measure on a 7–1 vote over the objections of labor and service unions, which represent many of the convention center’s 560 employees. utsandiego.com
Tom Sponseller, the president and CEO of the South Carolina Hospitality Association, was found dead today in his office’s parking garage, ending a 10-day search that made national headlines. Police say that Sponseller committed suicide.
He was last seen at his office on Feb. 18, and his car was parked in the garage. Police found the body in the garage’s lower level in a double-enclosed room, which had been overlooked during multiple searches, including one using dogs trained to find cadavers.
In the days since Sponseller’s family reported him missing, details have emerged of a federal probe into hundreds of thousands of dollars missing from the association’s accounts. Accounting Director Rachel Duncan has been named as a person of interest in the U.S. Secret Service’s financial investigation. The hospitality association also is conducting its own audit. thestate.com
Police in Columbia, S.C., are searching for the president and CEO of the South Carolina Hospitality Association, who was last seen Saturday afternoon at the association’s downtown offices. Tom Sponseller’s family reported him missing after he did not come home from the routine office visit and failed to return phone calls or text messages. His car was found in its regular parking spot at the office.
Sponseller, 61, is the public face of South Carolina’s tourism and hospitality industry and its chief lobbyist with the state legislature.
The family has created a Facebook page to help with the search. Anyone with information on Sponseller’s whereabouts should call Midlands Crime Stoppers at 888-274-6372 or the Columbia Police Department at 803-545-3500. thestate.com
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has announced a plan to combine the Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau with the tourism-focused portion of the Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture. Current CCTB CEO and President Don Welsh will lead the new organization, which will have its formal launch in summer.
The city estimates that streamlining its tourism efforts will save $1.3 million in administrative costs. The money will be re-directed to national and international marketing campaigns with goals of attracting 50 million tourists per year by 2020. choosechicago.com
The North American Travel Journalists Association has honored the Laguna Beach Visitors & Conference Bureau with its Grand Prize for Convention & Visitors Bureaus/Destination Marketing Organizations, singling out the California bureau’s social-media efforts.
The 2011 NATJA Awards Competition, in its 20th year, celebrates outstanding travel writing, photography and other media in 59 categories. Most of the awards go to newspapers and magazines, but the association also recognizes marketing organizations. In addition to Laguna Beach, the association also gave first-place Gold awards to CVBs in Raleigh, N.C.; Pasadena, Calif.; and Lansing, Mich., in specific categories honoring visitors’ guides and marketing campaigns. Click here for a complete list of winners. natja.org
Aug. 24, 2011
The board of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority has set a spending limit for hosting potential and existing clients, including meetings and events planners. The new rules were set in the wake of accusations against the CRVA for purchasing extravagant gifts for local businesses and public officials. They dictate that gifts must be less than $100 and spending on existing clients must stay under $150. crva.com
Aug. 10, 2011
The New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau has chosen Experient as its housing services partner. Experient will operate in tandem with the New Orleans CVB to help planners populate their housing blocks and iron out any housing issues that they have while in New Orleans. The partnership will allow the New Orleans CVB to deliver exceptional customer service to groups staying in the city. neworleanscvb.com