BACVA slates critical meeting

Evaluations of itself, Armstrong on agenda

Jan. 21, behind closed doors

Portions of the findings might not be released

January 09, 2003|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore convention bureau's governing body is scheduled to meet behind closed doors Jan. 21 to consider the findings of a top-to-bottom evaluation of its operations and the job performance of its president and chief executive.

The Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association board will hear reports by its review committee on the evaluation, which was ordered after The Sun reported that the expanded convention center had failed to meet projections.

Also on the agenda is the 2002 job-performance appraisal of BACVA President and Chief Executive Officer Carroll R. Armstrong, who sources have previously said will be leaving his post.

Key findings of the evaluation, conducted by Connecticut-based Performance Management Inc., already have been the focus of two lengthy meetings of board members.

Still unclear is the time and extent of any release of the findings to the public. "Part of the plan will be now that we have this, how do we release it and how much of it do we release?" said William T. Walsh, chairman of BACVA's review and evaluation committee, which has been charged with developing an action plan based on the report's findings. "The decision to release or not release the report has been put into the evaluation committee's hands for recommendations to the full board later this month."

Walsh said he anticipated that some of the contents of the evaluation, particularly those dealing with personnel, would not be made public. He declined to disclose the length of the report.

"Issues of personnel are nobody's business," said Walsh, who is also general manager of the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront. "The issue is not to hide anything; it's to take the information and move the organization forward."

In November, BACVA spokeswoman Nancy Hinds said the completed evaluation would be made public. At that time, sources close to BACVA also said that the board's review and evaluation committee had considered scenarios that would allow Armstrong to depart in a "soft landing."

In a statement yesterday, BACVA Chairman Clarence T. Bishop said: "The review and evaluation subcommittee is reviewing the PMI information to make recommendations to the board on all aspects of PMI's work, likely including how to professionally and appropriately handle materials generated in the course of PMI's work."

In a brief update sent Tuesday to convention and visitor association members, BACVA officials said the report criticized the organization's lack of leadership in the local tourism industry.

Stakeholders such as hotels and tourist attractions look to BACVA to be "more of a voice in Baltimore's tourism industry, the inspiration and chief lobbying organization," the update said.

But it also said the agency scored high in a number of areas. The evaluation highlighted BACVA's creative marketing on a limited budget, the quality of customer service to members and meeting planners and its professional staff, according to BACVA officials.

Praise for Baltimore

It also praised Baltimore as a destination.

"The good news is that our customers, members and meeting planners like BACVA's level of customer service," Bishop said in the update. "Overall, meeting planners gave BACVA staff positive marks for service and loved Baltimore as a destination."

Walsh said his committee's internal goal is to develop recommendations by the end of the month, but he said the process could extend beyond then. Walsh said some of the consultant's proposals could be implemented quickly, and others would take time. Cost would be prohibitive for some of the proposed ideas, he said.

A few changes have been made already, according to BACVA. For instance, the sales team will now target specific industries rather than geographic markets. And the board has implemented new internal controls over membership tracking.

Below projections

In articles last June, The Sun reported that instead of the 50 conventions a year projected by a 1993 feasibility study of the convention center expansion, the convention center has attracted a high of 41 conventions and a low of 26.

Combined attendance at trade shows and conventions - the most critical areas - also never reached the 330,000 projected. Attendance has ranged from a low of 192,625 in fiscal year 1999 to a peak of 234,394 in fiscal 2001, just 1,000 more than the number a decade earlier.

New numbers obtained by The Sun show that BACVA continues to miss sales goals by a wide margin. A BACVA report for the July-September quarter showed that hotel nights booked by BACVA met only 25 percent of the sales goal and fell by more than half, to 40,333 nights, from the corresponding period of the previous year. BACVA's sales goal was 158,750.

In his message Tuesday to members, Bishop said: "It is my belief that BACVA will become much stronger as a result of this review, and the organization will be left with a blueprint for future success. I am confident that the findings from this review and evaluation will help us move forward and sell Baltimore more effectively."

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