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Tourism Marketing Faces Deep Cuts: 1

Facing a proposed budget cut for the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau , its third in as many years , Reint Reinders is expressing doubts about the agency’s ability to successfully market the destination and his future as its president and chief executive.

“My first thought is that maybe destination marketing is not very highly valued in this city, and I guess there’s no real solid commitment to it,” he said, referring to City Manager Lamont Ewell’s proposed cut of at least 10 percent to the agency’s budget for fiscal 2006, which begins in July.

The leader of the bureau for 13 years, Reinders has witnessed some major tourism milestones, from the rebirth of Downtown’s Gaslamp Quarter, which began to take off in the mid-1980s, to last year’s opening of Petco Park.

Arguably the biggest tourism-related event was the expansion of the San Diego Convention Center, which nearly doubled in size to 2.6 million square feet in 2001.

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But last year, under criticism from the San Diego Convention Center Corp. that the waterfront facility was underutilized and not meeting its projected bookings goals, Reinders also saw ConVis lose its task of marketing to lure conventions.

According to ConVis, out-of-town visitors contributed $5.5 billion in direct spending to the county’s economy in 2004, while 110,000 people were employed in the tourism industry.

Meanwhile, the 1,200-member bureau endured a 21.5 percent cut in its city subsidy for fiscal 2005, which left it with a total operating budget of $12.5 million. The city allocation, which comes from the hotel room tax collection, amounts to $9.8 million. The rest comes mostly from membership dues.

In fiscal 2004, the allocation was cut 10 percent and Ewell has recommended another 10 percent cut in the subsidy for fiscal 2006.

The fact that ConVis is among an array of hotel room tax recipients recommended to endure a 10 percent cut in their city allocations doesn’t soften the blow, however.

Reinders, 60, said an additional cut will force the bureau to pare its advertising.

In the current fiscal year, “virtually all” of the bureau’s supplemental marketing fund of $3.6 million was directed toward advertising in newspapers, magazines, on outdoor billboards and television, said ConVis spokesman Sal Giametta.

According to Reinders, “Tourism destination marketing is the main thing the city invests in where it can expect a return on investment.”

But some, such as Bill Evans, managing director of the Evans Hotel Group, view Reinders as a leader whose salesmanship helped to lure visitors from outside San Diego, but were lacking when it came to convincing City Hall of the importance of that mission.

“He has little or no support at City Hall, and little support in the hotel community,” said Evans, whose company includes the Bahia and Catamaran hotels, as well as the Lodge at Torrey Pines.

“Personally, I like him. I think he did a good job in the past,” Evans said. “But he’s gotten out of touch with the hotel community and I think (ConVis) is overdue for fresh talent.”

Evans has pushed for greater representation among hospitality industry professionals on the boards of both ConVis and the Convention Center Corp.

Future Considerations

When asked whether he would seek or consider renewing his contract when it expires in July 2006, Reinders responded, “I am not sure.”

The matter of his contract has not come up in the bureau’s executive committee, said ConVis Chairwoman Joyce Gattas, who is also dean of San Diego State University’s College of Professional Studies and Fine Arts.

“We’ve not met to discuss the issue,” Gattas said. “We’re just trying to deal with the most immediate issue, the city manager’s budget recommendation.”

The topic of Reinders’ employment likely would not be given the executive committee’s attention until after the City Council votes on the budget for fiscal 2006, she said.

The ConVis board of directors has 37 members. Gattas declined to speculate on whether its 13-person executive committee would want to retain Reinders.

According to Giametta, Reinders earns an annual salary of $225,000 under a four-year contract, which expires June 30, 2006. His bonus was $81,000 in fiscal 2003. In fiscal 2004, it was about half that sum, Giametta said. A bonus review for fiscal 2005 would not come before July 1.

Joe Terzi, a regional manager for Starwood Hotels, who is the immediate past chairman of ConVis, gives Reinders an “A-plus” for leadership.

“Under Reinders’ tutelage, ConVis has played a critical role in developing San Diego as a major destination,” Terzi added. “The issues facing the bureau now are broader than one individual.

“Tourism as a viable economic engine for the city is seriously at risk and so is the destination’s ability to compete, and that’s not about Reint.”

Yet he declined to say whether he’d be supportive of offering him a new contract.

“I can’t give you an answer on that now, because I don’t know,” Terzi said. “The question uppermost on my mind now is whether ConVis can continue to be successful in the current economic environment.

“We’re in jeopardy of losing our dominant position in the marketplace.”

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