Tourism CEO pocketing less than peers

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The base salary for Doug Price, the new CEO of the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau, might seem like a fortune compared to the region’s median household income of $52,984.

But it’s considerably less than what visitors bureau CEOs in other like-sized cities earn, and it appears to be about the same as his predecessor, Terry Sullivan.

Price this week declined to reveal what his pay will be, but the CVB’s 2011 budget shows that salaries remained level over last year, an indication that Price is earning not much less or more than Sullivan.

The base for Sullivan was $143,851, according to last year’s CVB filings with the IRS.

Price has decades of experience in destination marketing. He’s known in the industry for being on the front lines and promoting change. As the city recovers from the recession, there’s plenty of pressure on him to increase revenue streams for the CVB and attract more leisure and travel business to the community.

Money has been tight at the CVB. At the end of 2009, the bureau laid off two employees in response to a reduction by the city in its Lodgers and Automobile Rental Tax, or LART, allocation for 2010. Last year, no layoffs were made but salaries were frozen.

Other tourist-destinations cities with similar populations to the Springs pay their CVB CEOs between 20 percent and as much as 100 percent more than what Price will make.

This comparison, though, is not strictly apples-to-apples, as other cities of similar size tend to have much larger CVB budgets. They also have convention centers, which Colorado Springs does not.

These two factors can lead to higher salaries, of course. In cities with convention centers, the CEO has to bring more traffic to the city to fill the center.

The Colorado Springs CVB, however, spends far less on salaries than the national average. Thirty-four percent of its budget goes to salary and benefits, compared to 46 percent nationally, according to Destination Marketing Association International statistics.

Instead, the bureau spends 55.7 percent of its budget on marketing; the national average is 40.5 percent.

After taking a drastic budget reduction last year, when the City Council cut the bureau’s LART funding from two-thirds to half, the CVB is back to normal funding levels this year.

This year, the CVB will invest in its employees by providing more than $14,000 in training, up from zero last year and $6,000 in 2009.

Beyond a salary, quality of life considerations were a strong factor in Price’s decision to relocate to the Springs. He won’t miss the two-hour commute he had on the East Coast.

“They are paying me a very fair wage — or I wouldn’t be here,” Price said.

Besides, his salary has more purchasing power here.

He said that the cost of living in the Springs is 42 percent less than in northern Virginia, outside Washington D.C., where he lived before starting his new job on Monday.

Comparing their pay

The head of the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau earns considerably less than his counterparts elsewhere.

Population CVB budget CEO pay Median household income
Colorado Springs 399,827 $3.2 million< $143,851 $52, 984
New Orleans 354,850 $15.7 million $371,165 $36,468
Tucson, Ariz. 548,555 $8.1 million $179,672 $35,565
Nashville, Tenn. 605,473 $13 million $354,540 $45,540
Denver 610,345 $13.7 million $220,000 $46,410