Virginia Beach is one step closer to changing the structure of its tourism department.
On Tuesday, the Virginia Beach City Council voted 8-3 to ask the General Assembly to pass legislation to allow the city to create an authority that would handle the city’s tourism marketing efforts, which is currently overseen by city staff.
If the legislation is supported, the council would still need to approve its creation and determine how to implement it.
Oceanfront hotel and restaurant owners have urged the city to consider restructuring its tourism department to allow the private sector to have more input. The local hotel and restaurant associations have argued that bureaucratic red tape has held back the city’s tourism department and creating an authority will result in stronger marketing efforts to lure tourists to the area.
A consultant hired by the city last year said privatizing the tourism department would allow the private sector to pitch in to pay higher salaries to bring in top talent, and the authority could forego public bidding on contracts to complete marketing projects faster.
Late last year, a 17-member city task force made up of local business leaders and residents reviewed several restructuring options and ultimately recommended a tourism authority.
The new organization would be modeled after the state’s Virginia Tourism Authority, and Virginia Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau employees — except for the staff that operate the Convention Center — would work for the authority.
Virginia Beach’s tourism authority would be governed by board members appointed by the city council. The board would be responsible for hiring an executive to lead the organization.
Councilman John Moss said he did not think the council spent enough time discussing the issue and engaging with the residents. A public hearing was held last month after the task force released its recommendations.
“The question before us is not the merits of marketing,” Moss said. “The question is should $30 million of beach residents’ tax dollars for marketing be transferred to and spent by an autonomous non-elected independent political subdivision of the commonwealth with no direct accountability to the voters.”
Moss said he had hoped to delay the vote, but Councilwoman Rosemary Wilson said the council should get permission from the General Assembly now so the city doesn’t have to wait until next year’s session to move forward.
“We are going to be behind the eight ball if we get delayed another year,” Wilson said on Tuesday. “This will also give us the time to iron out the kinks and see if this is what we really want to do in the next six months.”
Council members Moss, Louis Jones and Jessica Abbott voted no. Mayor Bobby Dyer said he supported sending it to the General Assembly but said he wasn’t sure if he would ultimately support forming an authority that would pay large salaries to tourism authority leadership.
“I do have skepticism,” Dyer said. “Is there a better way we could do it?”
Alissa Skelton, 757-995-9043, firstname.lastname@example.org.