VisitDallas asks city council for five-year contract

The much-maligned organization that works to promote tourism for Dallas presented a proposal on Wednesday to the Dallas City Council that would keep it operational for the next five years.

VisitDallas came under fire about a year and a half ago for extravagant salaries for top officials, including $700,000 of annual pay for its ex-CEO. Now, after the damaging audit, a new man is in charge and hoping that cost cutting along with plans to lure convention business post-pandemic will keep the group around.

Experts say that the coronavirus pandemic's damage to the tourism industry will be nine times as bad as the impact of 9/11 and the 2008 recession. But the new CEO of VisitDallas, Craig Davis, says Dallas will be better positioned to get back into the convention business. But things are bleak right now.

“We are forecasting rest of year at zero. At zero,” said councilman David Blewett.

With the sales pitch of "Visit Dallas...soon," it is clear there is a long way to go before the tourism industry can make a comeback.

“Our climb out will take 5 years,” Davis said.

Davis, and city staff, worked on Wednesday to sell council members on a new five year contract with VisitDallas.

“We are convinced we are doing things correctly,” Davis said.

“Right now, given COVID-19’s horrific impacts on revenue, we need consistent relationships to bring back clients who had to leave,” said Rosa Fleming, Director, Convention and Event Services.

Davis said VisitDallas has eliminated or furloughed 45 percent of its staff.

“It's been gutted,” Davis said. “Hate to use that term, but we've had to take hits across the entire enterprise.”

He made the bold prediction that Dallas will be positioned for a rebound better than other tourism hot spots, like Las Vegas or Orlando.

“What happens after these kinds events is people don't meet in those places because it has a perception of being over the top. You're meeting in Orlando or Vegas. Dallas is a reasonable choice,” Davis said.

It is still unclear how long the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center will have to remain empty.

“People will not feel comfortable traveling until they feel they won't get this disease,” Davis said.

Some council members expressed concerns about signing another contract with VisitDallas. The council is set to make a decision June 10.