Incoming CVB chief seen as a pioneer

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Business was lagging at Marriott Corp. Meeting planners had become reluctant to book conventions at its hotels, and management couldn’t figure out what the problem was. So they asked Doug Price for help.

Price, an executive with Destination Marketing Association International in Washington, D.C., will succeed Terry Sullivan as CEO of the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau next month.

Working for Marriott in the mid-1990s, Price’s ideas included eliminating redundant credit checks, making its contracts simpler, creating consistency in billing and deploying “red coats” — people who work on the floor during conventions to assist with audio/visual, technical or other issues that arise during meetings.

“Any time you can make it easier for people to work with you — hello — that’s the business you work in,” Price said.

His approach helped put Marriott’s convention business back on track, and is the sort of experience that helped Price land his new job.

He’ll be helping promote an industry that generates $1 billion a year in tourism spending in the Pikes Peak region, one of the larger segments of the local economy.

Beyond consulting and working for global hotel companies, Price’s background includes creating the internationally recognized benchmark for measuring performance of CVBs.

Unlike chambers of commerce, the medical profession, law enforcement or education, CVBs lacked a uniform standard to measure success or regulate quality.

Because CVBs rely on public funds, often in the form of lodging taxes, they must assure their board members and stakeholders — including hoteliers, restaurateurs and elected officials — that they’re spending their dollars wisely.

So Price set out to establish an accreditation program.

“We wanted to do that ourselves, police ourselves if you will, before we were asked,” Price said.

He established a task force and spent a year defining and measuring standards in 16 areas. Those include governance, finance, brand management, innovation and stakeholder relationships.

By 2009, three years after the standards were established, there were 108 accredited CVBs in the United States and seven in other countries.

Elsewhere, Price is also known for his expertise in sales and training.

He has taught one- and two-day sales seminars to more than 2,000 CVB executives in Europe, Australia, Brazil and North America.

“The art of working at a CVB is so unique. You have no product, no dates, no rates. You have to match a client with a product in your community,” said Vicki Comegys, VP of sales and services of the Greater Des Moines CVB in Iowa.

“Doug gave us information that people on their first day on the job can use or people like me can use,” she said.

After sending employees to his training programs for years, Comegys recently enrolled in the program, too. Although she has 24 years’ experience in the industry, she left the training with “35 actions I have to do as director of sales,” she said.

Among other lessons, Price teaches people to understand personality types, so they learn to tailor how and what type of information they deliver to each client.

For instance, trainees will role-play a typical scene from a trade show. They are trained to perceive personality types — dominator, influencer, steady or compliant — and deliver information accordingly.

It’s an approach that can make a big difference. Sometimes there can be 400 vendors including 200 CVBs at a trade show, and it can cost $10,000 for a CVB to attend. Trying to grab market share in that sort of competitive environment is difficult, which is why it’s crucial to know how to approach people, Comegys said.

“(His training helps) make sure you’re getting your best return on investment,” she said.

After traveling on business recently for two weeks solid, Price returned to his office just before Thanksgiving and found a box on his desk from the Colorado Springs CVB.

Inside was a photo album of every single staff member and volunteer at the CVB, including the dates when they started.

“I pulled out a calculator,” Price said. “They have 345 years of combined destination experience in Colorado Springs. As the person coming in to head up this organization, I am assured and feel very confident that there’s a group of people here who will help me succeed and who are passionate about selling and serving Colorado Springs.”

They also can expect Price to help them succeed.

“I don’t take anything for granted,” he said. “I will absolutely look at every person and every program and see what they do and ask questions and challenge them to make sure we’re doing what we should be doing.”