Boise CVB gets some relief
After a year in which the Boise CVB went from fully thriving to barely surviving, Idaho’s premier destination marketing organization (DMO) could use a bit of good news. And in late July, that’s exactly what the financially starved group finally received: a check for $24,500 for short-term marketing expenses. Yet even that meager sum, a fraction of the $650,000 sum requested by the CVB from its on-and-off benefactor, the Greater Boise Auditorium District (GBAD), didn’t come easily, as squabbling among the GBAD members held up the actual payment until late August.
As of press time, both parties were still trying to iron out a year’s worth of differences and reach a funding agreement, per CVB executive director Bobbie Patterson. But their financial dilemma, while unique for a variety of local reasons, points to what remains a broader, ongoing challenge for CVBs around the country in finding enough money to pay their bills and employees and still promote the benefits of their destinations.
“Currently destination marketing organization (DMO) budgets have stabilized from 2010 but have not recovered to their peak in 2008,” says Victoria Isley, executive VP and COO of Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI). “While we’ve seen terrible examples of doing away with DMOs in places like Washington State, where they closed the state tourism office, there are also bright spots of policy makers actually ‘getting’ the value of investing in destination marketing.”
Specifically, Isley points to Visit Florida, the Sunshine State’s official DMO, which veered from almost losing its independent identity and funding (i.e., being merged into a broader state economic development agency) to instead remaining intact and getting a 31 percent budget boost this year. “When legislatures are really looking at either reduced spending or revenue opportunities they can use DMOs as a solution to their problems,” she says. “DMOs have independent research on how every dollar they invest returns more than that to tax coffers. What happened in Florida this spring wasn’t the perfect example but certainly the right result.”
What happened in Boise over the past year was neither perfect, nor in Patterson’s mind, remotely close to being right. As first reported in Connect a year ago, the GBAD, which runs the Boise Centre convention center and for decades had helped finance the city’s CVB (about $1.3 million annually, raised through room taxes, which paid for staff, rent and utility bills), passed a resolution to discontinue funding the non-profit bureau legal as of Sept. 1, 2010. The board, which cited legal questions about how the funds should be spent, instead opted to form its own marketing division as an arm of the Boise Centre itself. “They took five members from the existing CVB to hire a new sales and marketing staff for the convention center,” says Patterson. And since the GBAD owned the CVB’s office space, she adds, “they evicted us earlier this year so that they could use the space for their own new staff.” The remaining bureau staffers were paid through January 2011 and, as the CVB’s outgoing voice mail attests, “the staff is now volunteering time to continue to provide some level of service to those interested in visiting or meeting in Boise.”
Moreover, Patterson’s concern about striking a new deal soon with the GBAD goes beyond whatever amount that board alone will fund her CVB with. “We also receive between $650,000 and $750,000 each year in grant money from the state of Idaho,” she says, with the caveat that it does not go towards salaries and operating costs. However, minus a signed deal with the GBAD, that grant money for 2012 could be in jeopardy, as the CVB would need to provide proof that it has a working staff capable of administering any state funding award.
When pressed about business lost due to the CVB’ s funding problems, Patterson says, “It’s hard to guess what we could have booked if fully staffed.” The issue still could be resolved sometime this month [September], according to an ever-hopeful Patterson. “I am diseased with optimism always,” she says. “One way or another we will continue to promote Boise.”