VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — As the city launches a new office to manage the Oceanfront, there is also a proposal to privatize the entire tourism department.
The new year has the potential to bring a lot of changes to Virginia Beach’s hospitality industry that is looking to rebound strongly from the crippling COVID-19 pandemic.
Last month, the city council voted to set aside $1.2 million to relaunch the Resort Management Office. Six new positions, plus eight existing positions will now be solely dedicated to improving and enhancing the 40 blocks between Rudee Inlet and the Cavalier Hotel Complex.
The Resort Advisory Commission told the council last summer that “intimidating crowds,” gun violence, neglected infrastructure, and reduced oversight are just a few of the factors that have led to a “loss of pride” along the resort’s Atlantic Avenue area.
The new employees — which include a resort administrator, zoning and code enforcement employees, and two homeless system coordinators — will help coordinate increased entertainment programming and keep an overall more clean appearance.
The majority of the money comes from the Tourism Investment Fund and will go towards the new resort ambassador program. Ambassadors will roam Atlantic Avenue and parks along the beach to interact with visitors as well as problems. If they see something out of place or that needs attention, like a missing brick in the sidewalk, they can more quickly address the issue.
While the resort administrator will start by reporting to the city manager, bigger changes could be in store for the tourism-related employees in the city.
A 17-person task force made up of council members Guy Tower and Rosemary Wilson and resort business owners — such as BJ Baumann, Laura Hubr, and Bruce Thompon — recommended removing the Convention and Visitors Bureau from the city’s oversight.
They have proposed the creation of the Virginia Beach Tourism Authority, a quasi-government organization that would still receive government funding, but won’t be held to all government rules.
William Hanbury, a Syracuse, N.Y.-based consultant with Destination Marketing and Nonprofit Management Advisory Services, told council members the current format isn’t allowing the city to better compete for tourism dollars.
“We can be so much more than what we are. We just aren’t achieving at our full potential,” Hanbury said.
He explained that privatizing the city’s marketing effort for tourism could allow the city to recruit better employees. It would also allow those who know customers best, to have more of a say in decision making.
“The complete lack of hospitality industry, within the organization was a serious serious concern. And the efforts here was to try to change that by allowing the private sector to participate not only from a board of directors perspective but also an in-kind or financial situation,” Hanbury said.
For the authority to be established the Virginia General Assembly would have to create it. Tuesday, Virginia Beach could vote to request legislatures take up the issue at this year’s session, which starts January 13.
However, Councilman John Moss raised concerns about how transparent the new authority would be.
“How many other cities have had issues where they’ve had ‘buddy-buddy’ contracts and other kinds of issues — because when you have less oversight, less competition, you get less than free open board, sometimes contractual relationships,” Moss said.
Moss said he wished the report had detailed more about what is not working under the current model.