Virginia Beach looks for new ways to attract top leader for the Convention & Visitors Bureau

Alissa Skelton, The Virginian-Pilot
·3 min read

In an attempt to attract more tourists, the city of Virginia Beach tried to form a tourism authority earlier this year.

But that effort died in the General Assembly, a casualty of politics.

The city’s next best solution is to boost the salaries of the top leadership of the city’s Convention and Visitors Bureau, in order to attract top talent, and to be able to fire employees at will if they don’t meet performance goals.

The bureau has been without a permanent director since August 2019 and City Manager Patrick Duhaney has delayed filling the position until the City Council finds a way to increase the salaries.

At a recent City Council meeting, Duhaney presented a few options to the council — including increasing pay scales, requiring new Convention and Visitors Bureau employees to serve at the will of the director, or having the director become a City Council appointee.

Most destination marketing organizations offer directors annual salaries between $250,000 and $360,000 with up to $100,000 in bonus opportunities, Duhaney said. Virginia Beach’s past director was offered a starting salary of $163,843.

Duhaney requested the council’s support to increase salaries in the department. He would like the salary of the Convention and Visitors Bureau director to be in line with a deputy city manager’s salary, which is around $196,000, plus $6,000 for a car allowance.

Current city policy allows staff to earn up to 5% in performance bonuses, and Duhaney said that could be increased for the CVB director position.

While not his preferred option, Duhaney said the director could also report directly to the council. Duhaney said that would be an untraditional model since many comparable organizations are not government departments. But it would be the quickest way to have a government employee serve at-will, Duhaney said. This route would allow existing staff to keep their current status, said City Attorney Mark Stiles, while new employees would be hired at will so the city could fire employees who do not reach their quarterly goals.

Mayor Bobby Dyer said he supports exploring the options the manager presented. He said it’s crucial to get the right leader who has the vision to lead the organization, improve advertising campaigns that will encourage more people to vacation in Virginia Beach and draw major conferences to the Convention Center.

Duhaney will return to the council in the coming weeks with more details so the council can hold public hearings and then determine the best path forward.

A year ago, Bill Hanbury, a consultant hired by the city, recommended the council privatize its tourism department. He said among 31 destination marketing organizations with budgets of more than $20 million, Virginia Beach and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, are the only destination marketing organizations that have direct government affiliation. Private organizations are nimble and pay employees higher salaries, he said.

Late last year, a citizen’s group appointed by the council to study the issue recommended creating a tourism authority, which was ultimately not approved by the General Assembly.

Alissa Skelton, 757-995-9043, alissa.skelton@pilotonline.com.