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County considers tourism director
October 20, 2011 Jerry Purvis   
A spokesman for the Scotts Bluff County Tourism Committee asked the county board to consider hiring a tourism director to promote the area’s scenic attractions.

After interviewing three groups who were interested in the job, the committee said they didn’t have a level of comfort with any of the applicants.

The Scottsbluff-Gering United Chamber of Commerce had handled tourism promotion for the county the past 14 years. But with their contract coming to an end, the tourism committee decided to make a request for proposals (RFP) to see if the service could be performed in a more cost effective manner.

Three groups submitted proposals: the Chamber, the City of Gering and private contractor Glen Lussetto of Bridgeport.

“After the interviews, we didn’t have a comfort level with any of the proposals,” said tourism committee spokesman Steve Frederick. “We moved to reject those and approach the board to see if we could get a little closer to what we’re looking for. In a sense, we’d be hiring a tourism director.”

Frederick said that if the county would create the position, the tourism committee could fund it through the county lodging tax. Services such as bookkeeping and health benefits would be handled through the county.

“When we asked for RFPs, we didn’t really look at all the possibilities,” Frederick said. “But after talking about it, what we really wanted is to hire our own employee. None of the three proposals presented us with that choice. We could work with any of the applicants, but we felt we could work more effectively if we had a one-to-one relationship with a tourism director.”

County Commission Chairman Mark Masterton said this could turn into an opportunity to address the bigger picture about the county’s tourism needs.

Both the Chamber and the City of Gering expressed their disappointment their RFPs were rejected. City Council member Joyce Hillman-Kortum said the city addressed every point asked of them in the proposal, which took numerous employee hours to develop.

Hillman-Kortum was director of the Chamber when the original proposal was developed. She said the tourism committee at the time didn’t think it had what was needed to administer a tourism program, so a contractor was hired.

“When we read Gering’s proposal, we understood the Gering Convention and Visitors Bureau would continue to exist, county tourism would continue to exist and we’d share an employee,” Frederick said. “We believe we need a full-time tourism director. I think Gering had some great ideas, but it gets back to the management structure.”

Karen Anderson, executive director of the Scottsbluff-Gering United Chamber of Commerce, also spoke to the county board. “Our tourism effort isn’t just one person,” she said. “Our entire team works together in fulfillment of the county’s tourism needs.”

She said one advantage that wasn’t available when their tourism effort began was the later implementation of a hotel lodging tax by city and a capital improvement tax for bricks and mortar projects.
“With that I think you need to look at a plan such as the one we outlined in our RFP,” Anderson said. “When you look at the larger picture, it’s more than just marketing and advertising. You need education and getting businesses to help with the tourism effort.”

Commissioners Masterton and Ken Meyer, along with Human Resources Director Jerry Crable, will meet with the tourism committee in the near future before determining the best way to proceed. The county board had earlier extended the Chamber’s tourism contract until the end of the year to allow time for discussion.

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