I still remember the conversation I had eight years ago with a CVB exec from a small Midwest city. We were at a PCMA reception and he was explaining why he had committed all of the bureau's advertising dollars to a particular (competitive) meetings publication. It wasn't that the publication was a smarter buy for his destination, he admitted. Actually, he was induced by the incentive the magazine was offering: If a bureau spent x-dollars in advertising per year, the CEO got to participate for free in a golf outing to Scotland. It was a great opportunity to golf and socialize with other bureau chiefs, he told me quite sincerely.
The conversation stuck with me all these years because it came to illustrate for me the worst stereotype about CVB execs: that they were a fraternity of good ol' boys whose business decisions had way too much to do with golfing and buddies. I am happy to say that I can't imagine having that conversation today. Indeed, the world of CVB management has changed dramatically in recent years.
For one thing, there are more women in top positions at large bureaus. This wasn't the case when I wrote the article “Women and CVBs” for this magazine back in 1996. One example of this new demographic: Our eight-person CVB roundtable this summer included the first females to head bureaus in Chicago, Baltimore, and Salt Lake City.
For another thing, bureaus are under intense scrutiny these days when it comes to how they spend public dollars for travel and entertainment, as our cover story details. Partly this has to do with the budget deficits many cities and states are grappling with. Partly is has to do with Sarbanes-Oxley legislation, aimed to curb corporate accounting abuses in the wake of Enron and other financial scandals. These days, transparency in spending and accounting is the name of the game, whether you're a corporation or a nonprofit CVB.
But there are signs that the pendulum may be swinging too far. Even legitimate business entertainment expenditures, like putting on a golffor potential customers, are being questioned. And some bureaus are dealing with major budget cuts — a shortsighted move by elected officials. As Deborah Sexton, CEO/president of the Chicago Tourism Bureau, points out in our cover story: “The last thing you want to do when you have a deficit is cut funding for revenue producers. We are revenue producers. The sad thing is that many, many people don't realize that. This has to change.”