Politics & Government

Sam Coats Plays the Fear Card to Protect VisitDallas

So why do conventions REALLY come to Dallas?

Yesterday the DMN published an opinion piece by Sam Coats, the guy running our convention and visitor’s bureau on an interim basis, until they can pick a CEO to replace the fat cat, Tumi-loving triathlete who was forced out for doing a lousy job. I don’t know Coats. By all accounts, he’s an honorable man trying to clean up a real mess at VisitDallas. But the fearmongering piece he wrote for the paper strikes a defensive tone that, in my experience, indicates rot. To wit:

Despite what our people and city staff have accomplished, there are still some who beat up on VisitDallas. That is unwise and can cause great harm to Dallas. Hundreds of millions of dollars in convention center bookings, hotel stays and spending at restaurants and other venues throughout Dallas are at risk. So are the 65,000 jobs in the hospitality industry, affecting workers in every city council district in Dallas. Millions of dollars in hotel occupancy taxes, sales taxes and property taxes are also at risk if conventions and meetings go elsewhere. Every major city in America will gladly take them. We are already experiencing hesitation by some meeting planners about bringing their meetings here.

Coats paints quite a scary picture. This whole thing will go to hell without VisitDallas because:

VisitDallas people make certain our visitors are treated well. Our folks display that “Y’all come back” attitude that makes folks want to return. We are having considerable success in moving conventions and meetings from cities that just don’t seem to care. We do.

That struck me as an odd draw for our city. So I contacted Shelby Snelson, the show manager for the International Roofing Expo, which will go down at the Kay Bailey in February. They are bringing their 14,000 or so roofers to Dallas for the first time since the mid-1990s. Without mentioning VisitDallas, I asked Snelson what drew her convention to Dallas. She wrote:

There are several factors we consider when evaluating locations for our shows. We look at the amount of square footage inside/outside the convention center, number of hotel rooms within a 3 mile radius of the convention center, city’s location (meaning is the city relatively easy to travel into from other parts of the country/globe) and most importantly market data. We analyze annual registration data to understand where our audience is coming from and also research the # of roofing contractor firms in the area. All of the factors combined with availability at KBHCC contributed to our decision to bring the IRE back to Dallas for the first time since the mid-1990s.

And as a bonus, we’re located in Dallas as well, so it’s great to be able to produce one of our events here in our backyard and show off our city.

No mention of a “Y’all come back” attitude. It’s logistics. Square footage, room vacancies, travel time, geography. Coats makes the argument in his DMN piece that Dallas doesn’t have mountains or ocean or gambling. So what brings people to town is the friendliness of the VisitDallas staff. I’m sure it doesn’t hurt, but I’m not buying the argument.

Coats also lays out in his piece the reforms he has enacted. Putting competent, honest people in place. Reducing the size of the board. Implementing actual performance metrics. That is all excellent to hear, and it gives me hope that VisitDallas can get its act together and serve the city instead of enrich and entertain its administrators. But then I hear the head of an organization with a $40 million budget say words to effect of “Hey, stop picking on us! That’s not fair. If you keep doing it, you’ll endanger the city.” And I think, “You are the folks who screwed up. You don’t get to play victim.” Oftentimes folks who talk that way are broken in ways they don’t understand.

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