Experience Colorado Springs held its annual business meeting today at the Marriott Hotel, a session dominated by discussion of budget cuts and how best to recover from the recession.
It was also marked by news this week that the organization’s CEO, Terry Sullivan, will retire at the end of the year.
About 115 convention and visitors bureau members and board members heard Sullivan speak about highlights and challenges for the visitors bureau.
Highlights of 2009 included hosting the State Games of America – with 10,000 athletes and 15,000 family members visiting Colorado Springs – the Western Association of Convention and Visitors Bureau convention, and Central States Shriners.
This year, the bureau and city will host the Rocky Mountain State Games.
Challenges include budget cuts, room rates that will take two or three years to recover, and recent negative publicity about Colorado Springs on ABC World News with Diane Sawyer on Feb. 1, and in the Wall Street Journal on April 13.
Because of the recession and “political pressure at the federal level” that reduced traveling and convention business, revenue declined from $3.29 million in 2008 to $2.94. Room rates plummeted as hotels scrambled to draw business, resulting in a 9.2 percent decline in the lodging tax from 2008.
The bureau has made numerous cost adjustments, including sending fewer people to trade conventions, and encouraging visitors to download the official visitors guide from the website. Along with mailing visitors guides at a bulk rate, whenever possible, instead of first-class, mailing costs have been trimmed from $154,137 in 2007 to $87,046 in 2009.
In 2009, revenue was nearly $2.94 million. Of this revenue, 81 percent came from LART, the lodger’s and auto rental tax; 13 percent from membership; 1 percent from county and state; and 5 percent other.
Expenses for 2009 were $2.9 million. Eighty-two percent was spent on marketing and programming; 14 percent on management and general fund; 3 percent on membership development; and 1 percent on fundraising.
In response to a smaller budget, the bureau has integrated the design and graphics between print and Internet marketing; is hosting more traveling writers, and leveraging social media, state cooperation, member partnerships and trade shows.
“Forty-two weeks of the year, someone is making a sales trip,” Sullivan said.
Last year, the bureau ranked in the top 20 percent nationally for social media use by convention and visitors bureaus, and group sales were in the top 50 of 400 CVBs nationwide.
The strongest industries for travel to the Springs are religious, government, leisure and sports.
“Last year alone, we had 100,000 room nights in sports alone,” he said.
After the presentation, Susan Edmondson, executive director of the Bee Vradenburg Foundation, and chair of the CVB board, said she had the “unenviable task” of announcing Terry Sullivan’s impending retirement, which will be at the end of this year.
July 2010 marks Sullivan’s 20 years with the bureau, Edmondson said, adding that “he’s ready to move on and do some fishing and lots and lots of skiing in the future.
“Although there’s no one like Terry – he’s one of a kind and we can’t replace him – we also know that we have a (beautiful) region, and we’ll be able to attract top-notch candidates.”
A search team has been working since the beginning of the year, and will look “nationally, locally and everywhere in between” for Sullivan’s successor.
“Lot’s of people will be able and interested in serving this community,” Edmondson said.
After Sullivan received a standing ovation, he wrapped up the meeting with a story about meeting Mayor Bob Isaac back in 1990, when Sullivan moved to the Springs from Dallas to be the bureau’s CEO.
Back then, Sullivan had “never worked for a board of directors or met a mayor.” So it was with trepidation that he went to meet Isaac, after the mayor’s office requested a meeting.
“Mayor Bob said, ‘I didn’t much like the guy before you, and I don’t know if I’ll like you any better,'” Sullivan told the crowd.
Searching for a way to lighten up the conversation, Sullivan saw Isaac’s West Point diploma and commented on that, adding that he had been an Army aviator in the Vietnam War.
As Sullivan told it, “‘Well,’ Mayor Bob said, ‘I guess you’ll be alright, then.'”