Monday, January 10, 2011

It’s Never Good To Do Business With Someone Who Puts A Gun To Your Head!

Bullying seems to be a standard response regardless of who privately owns the hotel built in air-rights leased atop the very publicly-owned Durham Convention Center.

It is a very dysfunctional way for a government contractor to behave, regardless of how well intended the motive may

The current ego-threat to downgrade the hotel’s flag to a “Courtyard” is far from the most egregious example of bullying that has hampered this government contract over two different ownerships and its two decades of existence, much of it outside the public eye.

Going forward, regardless of who the City and County of Durham select as the operator, putting an end to this dysfunction will unencumber the Convention Center and enable it to fully participate in Durham’s ongoing emergence as a destination for visitors as well as conventions.

Yesterday's ranking of Durham by the New York Times as one of 6 destinations in the US and 41 worldwide to visit this year is just the latest of many accolades flowing to this community as a visitor destination since community/destination marketing commenced just two decades ago.

Belying the good management at the hotel for the last few years and many good people who have worked there are abuses stretching over two different owners during those same two decades that have plagued and undermined the local government contract to operate the Durham Convention Center including:

  • Virtually usurping the identity of the Convention Center as merely the hotel’s ballroom without seeking and paying customary “naming rights” in consideration.

  • Robbing the community of economic impact by diverting overflow guests to an entirely different town, county and business climate where the then-owner owned another hotel.

  • Inconsistent response to RFP’s and infrequent participation in community-wide co-op sales promotions while contaminating the community’s image overall as a venue for conventions and meetings with hundreds of meeting planners.

  • Repeatedly trying to hijack for its own resources and efforts intended to market the community as a whole in diversified segments.

As much as it is tempting and worthy of public review, rather than rehashing here the almost humorously absurd “Abbott & Costello-like” details of these and other abuses, it makes more sense to look forward.

Listed below are seven of many reasons the current recommendation for a separate operator can be mutually more beneficial for the facility, tax payers and even the hotel atop the Durham Convention Center:

  • There is compelling evidence why separate identities and managements for convention centers remain a “best practice” often even when both are privately owned.

  • Over 25% of all corporate and association meetings use convention centers, about the same percentage are drawn to any particular hotel flags. Having dual identities is win/win.

  • Durham overall draws its fair share of the 10% of all visitors who attend conventions and meetings as well as a healthy diversity of other segments. Separate management will permit the Center to do the same with facility users.

  • Logically, hotels give preference to higher-rated guests over groups, often letting meeting facilities go fallow. Separate management means the Convention Center will never play second fiddle and will warrant first priority.

  • Other Durham hotels will be even more likely to work with the Convention Center if it has neutral management and isn’t blanketed with the identity of a direct competitor.

  • Courtyard is now a greatly upgraded flag and while not full-service, if that’s the direction the hotel’s owners take, it will perfectly complement the new luxury boutique hotel developing just across the CCB Plaza from the Center.

  • If the hotel’s owners elect to retain a full-service flag, there is precedent to pursue an exemption that I’m certain would have the active support of local officials, DCVB and the Center’s new management.

From what I can see, kudos to the City’s Joel Reitzer and the County’s Drew Cummings for not only excellent “due diligence” during the bid but for standing up to, rather than deferring to, what has been the norm in that agreement.

Bullying is a common tactic among many businesses but not all. Some seek a win/win, while others feel entitled to push as far as they can.

Most government administrators don’t usually excel at resolving conflict even if it is their own, preferring instead to be mediators because politics so often intervenes while others make their point which rarely if ever works when one side is bullying.

I don’t know when the relationship between the hotel owners’ approach to and interpretation of the government contract to operate the adjacent Durham Convention Center became dysfunctional.

I came to Durham just weeks after those two facilities opened, recruited to help jump-start Durham’s first community-wide destination marketing agency, and the emerging dysfunction was already clearly evident at the time.

I took my share of blows over the years while standing up, as instructed by local officials, to the bullying that was rarely in public view or evident to others including administrators.

Standing up to special interests is a significant and essential part of the job of a DMO executive but that particular special interest was far from the most challenging I faced.

While no one was ever able to get the issues between the hotel and its government contract fully resolved over those years, I’m proud that we never let bullying by owners hinder our working as closely and as hard as we could with people inside the hotel to equitably promote both that facility and the Durham Convention Center.

Adopting the current recommendation will be a productive breath of fresh air for all concerned.

1 comment:

Rob Gillespie said...

Amen. Shaner is acting like an elementary aged kid with this whole issue. Either advance the best bid in the RFP process or see your contact go away.