What the Tourism Authority (ConVis) Actually Does - Voice of San Diego

Economy UNVEILING THE UNSEEN

What the Tourism Authority (ConVis) Actually Does

If the Tourism Authority lays off 85 of its 100 staff members, what will San Diego lose?

On Tuesday, the Tourism Authority brought its employees to the City Council chambers to show the faces of the people who would presumably be left without jobs if Mayor Bob Filner continues to refuse to sign the operating agreement with the Tourism Marketing District.

That agreement is what allows them to collect a 2 percent hotel room surcharge on top of the 10.5 percent tax the city already gets.

Now, these people don’t need to lose their jobs because of the mayor. The 127 hotels that voted for this special levy on hotel rooms (compared with the 218 that voted against it) are free to contribute the exact same amount they were going to send to the Tourism Authority anyway.

But they want to compel all their competitors to charge the same fee to their customers. And now the council has officially directed the mayor to sign this specific agreement (not just any agreement, as they had left it before).

I’m not sure how they or the court will actually force Filner to sign a document. I keep picturing a poor officer charged with physically forcing the mayor’s hand to eke out a signature. I’d rather wrestle a crocodile.

More likely, Filner will keep fighting, a judge will find him in contempt — and on and on and on.

It’s time we understood what the Tourism Authority is actually doing. It spent $21 million for the year ending June 30, 2011. We’ve already heard a lot about its canceled ad campaigns touting San Diego as a destination.

Yesterday the group said tourism is down 4.8 percent from Feb. 17 to March 16 because of a canceled ad campaign that was supposed to begin Feb. 11. That must have been a hell of an ad they lost out of sending.

But the ads aren’t the whole issue. If the agency indeed lays off 85 of its 100 staff members, what does San Diego lose?

Tourism Authority CEO Joe Terzi walked me through it and provided an organizational chart. Here’s my simplified version of it (bonus fact: Today I learned that the Film Commission, which was its own thing for many decades, is now a part of the Tourism Authority and reports to Terzi).

The agency has 25 people involved in direct sales to groups. These are folks spread throughout the country who work to lure non-Convention Center groups to San Diego. They’ll pick them up at the airport, show them around and talk up different venues.

“Then they’ll put them back on the plane and hope they’ll sign a contract to bring their group to San Diego,” Terzi said.

Then there are 21 people in the marketing department.

“This is not just about ad placement,” Terzi said. These people get TV stations in L.A. to highlight something happening in San Diego, or they’ll work to spur media coverage across the country.

He said five or so people work with tour brokers. They try to get all those groups of foreign tourists to make San Diego a destination.

The organization also took over the sales of the Convention Center and the employees in that department are unaffected by the standoff.

Terzi’s finance team has four members. He described how his organization actually gets paid.

He said they have to spend money and then submit a reimbursement to the city. The city audits the expenses and it can take up to 60 days to get the check.

“Sometimes we’ll get a half-million-dollar check held up because we’re off by 20 cents. The mayor says we don’t have any accountability, but his staff audits every single cent we spend,” Terzi said.

Interestingly, this description is at odds with the Tourism Authority’s website, which says that this money is not public.

Q. Is public money being used to fund the TMD or market San Diego?

A. No. The TMD money used to market San Diego is private-money assessed by lodging establishments for the purpose of marketing San Diego to promote tourism…

If it were private money, the mayor wouldn’t be able to mess with it.

Tuesday, the mayor vowed to keep messing with it.

I’m Scott Lewis, the CEO of Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you’d like at scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0527 and follow me on Twitter (it’s a blast!):

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