Monday, February 07, 2011

Taking Perks And Comps from Special Interests Is Still Disturbingly Far Too Common -

Within earshot of a City official, a friend with ties to public sector funding was overheard to boastfully lament his imminent loss of special perks from Marriott hotels and resorts now that the City and County of Durham are moving to a separate operator for the Durham Convention Center rather than continue to use the owner of an adjacent hotel flagged as a Marriott.Capture

Just hubris or failed humor or naiveté?

Maybe but I fear not and I fear this practice and way of thinking are also still far too prevalent among way too many others involved with organizations like convention and visitor bureaus, economic development corporations, chambers of commerce and downtown redevelopment organizations.

It is a serious ethical dilemma and slippery slope for individuals representing communities in any capacity -- public or private, non-profit or governmental, contract agency or consultant -- to accept, let alone seek, special treatment from special interests.

When I began my career in community-destination marketing in the early ‘70s, the practice of seeking or accepting airline tickets or hotel rooms for personal use was very common.  It mimicked the practice common among hoteliers and airline executives to seek discounts, or comps as they were called, from one another so why shouldn’t people working to build the destinations from which these companies harvest their share of business do the same?

Sometimes the perks were offered rather than pursued, but the transactions all had something in common – a quid pro quo that was rarely apparent but believe me, always existed.

It felt awkward to me and more than a bit slimy, so even before codes of ethics became part of accreditation for community-destination marketing organizations, I steered clear of the practice  decades ago and embedded prohibitions in the codes of ethics I had signed by each and every staff member in the organizations I led.

Soon fter start-up, two decades ago, DCVB’s governing authority also adopted a similar prohibition with a code of ethics signed by its members.

I developed a reputation so by the time I retired I rarely would get a call or email from a peer or an acquaintance or an elected official from another community or a travel writer or a meeting planner or a university official asking if I could get them a discount or a comp.

Sadly though, you would be astonished how many public, private and non-profit organizations don’t have a code of ethical behavior for management, staff and board members or fail to include specifics about resisting special interests.

What does it matter?   If you need to ask that, you’re a problem to your organization and your community.

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