|By Mark Eddington, The Salt Lake Tribune|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Aug. 11, 2004 - PROVO, Utah -- The Utah Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau may have been privatized, but that did not stop county leaders Tuesday from issuing a very public warning.
"You've got to understand that if there's no production, there's no renewal of contract," County Commissioner Jerry Grover warned Joe Racker, president and CEO of the bureau that was privatized a year ago.
Commissioners' concerns were triggered by Racker's midyear report, which showed the nine-member bureau is falling far short of its goal to sell 28,000 room nights at Provo/Orem-area hotels in 2004. To date, the bureau has totaled just under 5,000.
Grover says that is poor value in exchange for the bureau's annual budget of just under $1 million, which is largely funded through hotel-room and restaurant taxes.
Racker, however, said his agency set the bar too high.
"I'm very proud of the 5,000 room nights," he countered. "I'm not disappointed. We didn't know that 28,000 wasn't realistic."
Racker said Utah County is handicapped in its bid to attract large corporate conventions -- bookings that would boost the bureau's numbers -- by a lack of quality hotels and conference facilities in the area.
"The Provo Marriott and the 27,000 square feet they have there is really our only quality lodging product with meeting space," Racker said.
Before the bureau was privatized, it accounted for bookings of only 300 room nights in 2003. So, Racker added, substantial progress is being made.
For starters, the bureau sports a newly designed logo and has moved its visitors center into the northwest corner of the county's new Health and Justice Building. Moreover, Racker told commissioners, the agency has booked five hockey events that will add another 7,600 room nights to the bureau's tally between September and early February.
"We are producing," Racker said, "and I believe that we will continue to produce and produce even more."
But Grover is not convinced. Looking at the current numbers, the commission said the bureau is not giving the county a good return on its nearly $1 million investment. He noted that 5,000 rooms amounts to about 200 tax dollars a night.
"You take half of that and that's still 100 bucks we are paying you per room night generated," Grover said. "At some point, you could probably just pay somebody or give them a free room."
The bureau's contract expires at the end of the year. Racker said he must submit a new business plan by Nov. 1 to the commission, which will then have until Nov. 10 to approve or reject it.
Racker said patience and hard work will precede better results.
"It takes time," he said. "Salt Lake City privatized 19 years ago, and you can bet they weren't what they are today 19 years ago."
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