|By Wesley Young, Winston-Salem Journal,
N.C.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Dec. 22, 2009--The Forsyth County Tourism Development Authority has hired the former Buffalo, N.Y., tourism chief to be the head of Visit Winston-Salem, the agency that promotes tourism in the city and county, the authority said yesterday.
Richard Geiger was the president of the Buffalo Niagara Convention and Visitors Bureau for 14 years, from 1995 until May, when he and his board agreed that he would leave May 31.
The Buffalo tourism bureau said that Geiger's stay with them was highlighted by a significant increase in convention bookings, the successful attraction of amateur athletics events, and an emphasis on cultural and heritage tourism.
"Winston-Salem has a strong arts community, galleries and theaters," Geiger said. "These can be real opportunities to reposition Winston-Salem and attract visitors there."
The Buffalo News reported in May that Geiger left his job after Chris Collins, the elected county executive in Erie County, N.Y., where Buffalo is located, pushed to have Geiger replaced.
"I was 14 years in Buffalo and in this line of work that is a lifetime," Geiger said. "After 10 years you are on borrowed time. A new county executive wanted to make some changes and have his own people in place and that was the challenge. My executive committee resigned with me."
Geiger steps into a position that was white-hot with controversy in 2008, when the tourism agency, then directed by Bob McCoy, and Forsyth County Commissioner Ted Kaplan engaged in a long-running battle over how much money the tourism agency was spending on administrative expenses.
The result was a leave of absence for McCoy from which he did not return, and the search for a new chief that led to Geiger.
Rachna Atwal, the vice chair of the Forsyth County TDA and a member of the personnel committee that searched for a new TDA chief, said that the group has "no concerns" over the circumstances of Geiger's departure from Buffalo.
"The pool to choose from was extremely rich," she said. "Geiger has an excellent track record. He comes with an enormous amount of experience in branding. He has an immense sales and marketing background."
Kaplan said he's satisfied with the job that the TDA's personnel committee did in picking Geiger, and that he's "glad we have a guy that has some experience."
"Marketing a place like Buffalo has got to be a challenge," Kaplan said.
Geiger's salary will be $130,000. He will start work Feb. 1. Geiger said he will be taking a "business perspective" to the TDA and "run the organization like a business and on a business model."
The Forsyth County TDA, in its news release announcing the hiring, cited Geiger's experience in cultural tourism, conventions and sporting events.
Geiger said that in previous jobs, including director of convention sales and marketing in Orlando, Fla., he has "led the transformation of markets."
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