|By Jennifer Davie, The San Diego Union-Tribune|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Sep. 14, 2004 - For Reint Reinders, president of the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau, this year has brought both personal satisfaction and some unwanted scrutiny.
The voluble Reinders takes pride that San Diego continues to gain clout as a top tourist destination, with its hotel occupancy and room rates among the highest in the nation.
Reinders also points to the opening of new attractions, such as the Midway aircraft carrier museum, as part of the reason San Diego continues to gain in popularity. This year's opening of the Midway, in particular, was a high point for Reinders, who was one of the museum's earliest and most ardent advocates.
"We've gone through 12 years of ups and downs and near misses and near fatalities and lots of naysayers around to have accomplished bringing an attraction of that size to our waterfront," he said. "It is something that I am very proud of."
But on the downside, Reinders, who has headed ConVis since December 1991, has been questioned about his and the organization's spending practices. While the bureau is a private, nonprofit organization, it depends on the city of San Diego for the majority of its funding.
Last week, a final city audit took issue with bonuses, car allowances and how ConVis spent money on entertaining clients. Still, the audit asked that the bureau only reimburse the city $23,023 for ineligible expenses, which is a small fraction of its $20.2 million budget.
But the spending issue has dogged ConVis for much of this year, with attention focused on Reinders' $81,000 annual bonus and a $50,000 interest-free loan -- since paid off -- that was negotiated as part of his contract.
Amid the controversy, the bureau's budget was slashed by more than 20 percent and it was stripped of responsibility for marketing the San Diego Convention Center. Critics of Reinders say ConVis has lost its focus and doesn't have the political connections to fight to save its budget.
Reinders calls the budget controversy "a tempest in a teapot" and "Machiavellian." But he admits, the questions have stung, especially when San Diego's tourism business is thriving.
"This whole year, with some of these attacks and these questions about our behavior and spending especially coming during a period of great results, has been somewhat disconcerting," Reinders said. "And as a result of this, getting hit as hard as we were with cutbacks, which I felt were somewhat punitive."
To some extent, Reinders agreed that he is not much of a political animal.
"I would probably have to become more politically savvy. I'm really not someone for backslapping. I'd like my actions and results to speak for themselves," Reinders said. "There are too many agendas out there. I don't have an agenda. I'm a pretty open book."
Ironically, it is Reinders' agenda for the Midway that his critics point to as one of his problems.
Instead of working directly with the lodging industry to put "heads in beds," said Bill Evans of Evans Hotels, which owns the Lodge at Torrey Pines and other San Diego hotel properties, Reinders is working on esoteric projects that don't necessarily translate into increased occupancy.
"Bringing the Midway here is an important thing, but it's not the mission of the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau," Evans said.
The city of San Diego also criticized Reinders and ConVis in its recent audit for donating $10,000 to help establish the private, nonprofit Midway museum.
But for Reinders and his supporters, helping the Midway come into being is exactly what the head of ConVis should be doing and it is what he does well.
"I see him somewhat as a visionary," said Joe Terzi, a past ConVis chairman who runs Starwood Hotels & Resorts in the western United States. "I don't think the bureau is responsible for selling my hotel. They are there to create a destination people want to visit."
Steve Moore, president of the Greater Phoenix Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Reinders is good at both improving San Diego as a product and marketing the area. As a friendly competitor of San Diego and Reinders, Moore said he had to laugh when he saw the area billed as the golf capital of the world. Phoenix, which has some 200 golf courses, hadn't thought to lay claim to that distinction.
"It's just another way San Diego has figured out how to do it first and how to do it better," Moore said.
Despite the controversy surrounding Reinders locally, his peers in the industry view him as one of the best in the field.
Spurgeon Richardson, chairman of the International Association of Convention and Visitor Bureaus and the president of Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau, said Reinders is known for being goal oriented and for his integrity.
"Reint is one of the most respected CEOs in the CVB world today," Richardson said. "He is known as a top leader among all CVBs."
The gregarious Reinders rose to his current position after starting at the bottom in the hospitality industry. As a boy growing up in the Netherlands, Reinders spent summers working at a small hotel owned by an uncle. The mixture of meeting different people and solving problems appealed to him, he said. One summer when the chef quit, Reinders took over the kitchen, learning as he went along.
At age 17, Reinders was orphaned when his parents were killed in a car accident. He and his three sisters were split up, and Reinders finished out his schooling by living with a friend.
"I was always on my own," Reinders said of losing his parents so young. "I learned to be very self-sufficient."
For college, Reinders studied hospitality management at the Horecaf HotelSchool at The Hague. After completing his studies and a stint in the Dutch army, where he trained recruits to be mess attendants, Reinders worked in a few restaurants and then moved to Geneva, Switzerland. At first, Reinders concentrated on restaurant side of the hospitality industry, learning all aspects of the trade from working in the kitchen to the dining room to the bar.
Without a family to tie him to one place, Reinders was looking to move.
He wanted to migrate to Australia, but some friends from college were working at the Hilton in Tarrytown, N.Y., and persuaded him to come to the United States.
"I had my suitcase, a bunch of clothes and $300. That's it," he said.
Reinders, who met his wife, Angela, at the hotel in Tarrytown, used his experience there to get a job with Marriott. He spent the next 21 years with the company, going from hotel to hotel with ever-increasing responsibilities and crisscrossing the United States several times along the way. He finally ended up in San Diego in the mid-1980s, when he was appointed as the general manager to open the La Jolla Marriott.
In 1991, Reinders was lured to a high-profile position at Ace Parking. He said he quickly realized it wasn't the right job for him, so he sought out the ConVis position when it became available in late 1991.
Reinders, who turns 60 in November and has two years left on his contract, said he is still committed to his job but is concerned about the continued trimming of his organization's budget and how it might eventually affect San Diego's tourism business.
"If we went out of business tomorrow, it's not like no one would come," he said. But a lack of marketing could eventually result in a 5 percent drop, which could have huge ramifications, he said.
"It results in less jobs, less tax revenue. It can very easily turn the other way," Reinders said.
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