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16 of 17 Harlingen Hotels Continue to Boycott the Harlingen
 Convention and Visitors Bureau; Lists 9 Demands

By Daisy Martinez, Valley Morning Star, Harlingen, TexasMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Aug. 28, 2007 - HARLINGEN -- The Harlingen Lodging Association said it will continue to boycott the Harlingen Convention and Visitors Bureau as the city prepares to host a Tourism Summit and Workshop today.

The HLA released a statement Monday that said, "Our boycott means that we will not accept any future communication from the Harlingen CVB, attend any meeting or participate in any forums sponsored by the Harlingen CVB..."

However, the HLA will attend the summit because it is hosted by the city and not the CVB, Julie Parra, HLA secretary and director of sales at Country Inn & Suites said Monday.

Michelle Helgren-Garza president of the HLA and manager at Best Western said Monday that there has been some misinterpretation of what the HLA wants to accomplish with the ongoing boycott.

The HLA, made up of 16 of the 17 Harlingen hotels/motels, stopped working with the CVB in January because it said the city and the hotels were being misrepresented and treated unequally.

"Some of the public thinks that the hotels just want to control the tax money, but that's not the case," Helgren-Garza said. "It's not who has control; it's about the money being accounted for no matter who controls it. The money is supposed to be spent to promote tourism. It's just the law."

Tony Silvestro, vice-president of the HLA and manager at Country Inn & Suites, said that the HLA wants to be involved in the hiring of the next CVB director. He also said the Harlingen Area Chamber of Commerce, which oversees the CVB, has done a "horrible" job spending hotel/motel tax money to market Harlingen and bring tourism to the city.

"We'll come out (of the summit) with new ideas but I don't think it will fix Harlingen's problems or our problems with the CVB," Silvestro said.

Ruthie Ewers, interim president for the HACC, said she has asked the HLA to attend the summit to learn about what other cities are doing to make their CVBs to work.

"I don't understand why there's still this problem because I've been doing everything I can do," Ewers said. "There's a lot of good things that are happening. If (the HLA) would just sit still for a minute and let me tell them about (those things).

"I am willing to do anything to make it work but I can't do it by myself," Ewers added. "But if I don't have their help, I'm still going to market Harlingen, put heads in beds (in hotels), make the (hoteliers) proud and earn their respect."

The HLA also stated in its statement that it was informed that City Commissioner Jay Mead "makes all decisions for the CVB unilaterally," but Meade said he is gives the CVB guidance since he held the position director for six years.

"I'm not calling the shots; I'm just there to offer guidance and as soon as an executive director is hired, I'm out of there," Meade said.

Helgren-Garza said the HLA wants the CVB to hire a director as soon as possible and appoint an advisory board to give suggestions on how to market Harlingen.

The decision to hire a CVB executive director will be made sometime after the summit, Ewers said.

Ideally the board would be made up of "tourism leaders" like representatives from hotels, Valley International Airport, restaurants, transportation, Valley Race Park and others, Helgren-Garza said.

Ewers said an 11-member board has been appointed, made up of people with different tourism experience, but said the names of those people would be released at a later meeting.

DEMANDS OF HARLINGEN CONVENTION AND VISITORS BUREAU

The Harlingen Lodging Association press release lists the following demands of the Harlingen Convention and Visitors Bureau:

* A CVB Advisory Board made up of businessmen and entities in the tourism industry to advise the CVB director about industry, developments, trends and needs

* Professional staff with experience and training in tourism to work at the pleasure of the CVB board

* Open CVB board meetings, posted in accordance to the Texas Open Meetings Law

* An end to all contractual ties of the CVB to the Harlingen Area Chamber of Commerce

* An end of all closed-door decision-making of the CVB by any individual, city commissioner or city official.

* Annual audits by an independent accounting firm

* Annual performance reviews of CVB staff by an independent human resources firm

* Annual financial statements to be published in the Valley Morning Star for citizens to read

* A good working relationship between those working for CVB and the local hotel, restaurant and retail industries

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To see more of the Valley Morning Star, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.valleystar.com.

Copyright (c) 2007, Valley Morning Star, Harlingen, Texas

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