Wednesday, July 04, 2001

Visitors Bureau scrutinized




By Ken Alltucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A private consultant recommends the board of the Greater Cincinnati Convention & Visitors Bureau vote whether it has confidence in President Mike Wilson as part of a shake-up designed to make Cincinnati's chief tourism agency more competitive.

        The consultant suggests a revamped board of directors, staffing changes and a beefed-up budget.

        The draft report comes as Cincinnati struggles to attract conventions and business meetings — events better-funded competitors snatch away with expanded convention centers and more aggressive and innovative leadership, the report concludes.

        Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken applauds an open vote on Mr. Wilson's leadership but questions whether the bureau needs more money.

        “He is either the right guy or not,” said Mr. Luken, who favors an expanded downtown convention center.

        Mr. Wilson, the organization's top executive since July 1972, said he isn't threatened by a vote of his leadership.

        Chicago-based C.H. Johnson Consulting Inc. also recommends the bureau:

        • Change and make more public its 36-member board of directors. The board lacks the focus, control and profile of competitors and has difficulty responding to market changes.

        • Discuss the value of the current leadership, finishing with a vote of confidence in Mr. Wilson. Also, the bureau should hire a chief operating officer to take on some duties performed by Mr. Wilson.

        • Increase the bureau's hotel-tax dependent budget of $5.8 million to between $8 million and 10 million. Possible new funding sources include the state, a hotel-room tax increase, a restaurant tax and money from regional partners such as the Northern Kentucky Convention and Visitors Bureau.

        The bureau projects the budget could dip another $400,000 next year because hotel occupancydropped during the Comair pilots strike, riots and slow economy.

        The board agreed to pay C.H. Johnson Consulting $40,000 to assess how the bureau has done in promoting Cincinnati.

        The consultant said Cincinnati's tourism woes go beyond bureau control. Factors such as poor convention space, a languishing hotel-room supply and a fractious political environment contribute to Cincinnati's stagnant tourism and convention business.

        According to the report, “While the CCVB is in critical need of change, an equally urgent matter is Cincinnati's need for a unified voice and strong public policy to strengthen the market.”

        The consultant said Cincinnati and Hamilton County are responsible for an unfair portion of costs for transportation and infrastructure — costs that should be shared by the region. Yet Cincinnati and Hamilton County officials have been reluctant to increase hotel tax rates to a comparable level charged by competing cities, eliminating potentially valuable marketing funds for the bureau.

        The bureau's newly elected chairman, Dave Anderson, could not be reached Tuesday. On Monday, Mr. Anderson said the board agreed to allow Mr. Wilson to answer all questions about the management review.

        The critical findings come as Cincinnati business leaders lobby local government officials to help fund a $325 million expansion of the city-owned Albert B. Sabin Cincinnati Convention Center.

        Mr. Luken said it doesn't make sense to use extra funds for marketing an inadequate facility.

        The mayor's task force says the convention center can be expanded by 2008.

       



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