by Morton D. Rosenbaum | February 01, 2005

Katherine Sidor, formerly of the Housatonic Valley CVB

Hot seat: Katherine Sidor,
former executive director of the
Housatonic Valley CVB

When Katherine Sidor, former executive director of Connecticut’s Housatonic Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau, suspected her CVB was about to go under in spring 2003, she went directly to the budgeting board.
    “In May, the governor had been talking about getting rid of some districts,” she recalls, “and I knew what that could mean for us. I lined up multiple budgets, depending on how long we’d have left: three months, six months, a year. I started winding down the outside contracts so everyone got paid. I prepared the contracts for next year, too, of course, in case I was lucky enough to be wrong. I wanted at least to protect the reputation of my board when we folded.”
    Such turmoil is hardly unprecendented. Across the country, CVBs have found themselves in a profoundly mobile industry, promising or threatening fundamental changes in the way they do business. Following is an exploration of major transitions and how CVB staff have risen to conquer considerable challenges.

When Connecticut found itself with drastically diminished tourism funds in 2003 and no fewer than 11 distinct CVBs, the state legislature slashed more than budgets. In October of that year, the newly established Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism called for a reorganization of the 11 bureaus into five and left Sidor unemployed.
    The blow, says Sidor, was devastating. “I had colleagues who had been in their positions for 10, 12 and 13 years, who had already weathered so many storms for the state of Connecticut that they didn’t think it was real. Very few of us had really been preparing for the ax to fall.”
    Although the Housatonic region had consistently outperformed Hartford and New Haven in revenue generation, according to Sidor, her bureau was dismantled and absorbed into the newly delineated Connecticut Northwest, along with neighboring counties Litchfield and Waterbury, the latter of which provided most of the new bureau’s small staff as well as the site for the new headquarters.
    Kay Schreiber, former sales manager for the Housatonic district, survived the consolidation and moved to the new streamlined composite as sales manager. The Connecticut Northwest office “had a really wonderful atmosphere,” she says, “but the truth is, no matter how passionate you are about tourism, six people cannot possibly know every event and every venue in a district with 48 towns. The real local knowledge just isn’t there anymore. Certainly not like it was before.”
    Schreiber left the bureau to take her current post as manager of City Center Danbury, a marketing and business development agency for the city’s downtown.
    But Paul Mayer, executive director of the Central Regional Tourism District, another postconsolidation entity, disagrees with Schreiber’s concerns. “I think the consolidation increases our level of expertise,” he argues. With a domain that’s expanded from Hartford exclusively to 46 towns along the Connecticut River, “we know more now about the areas surrounding Hartford than we ever did, and that helps our clients.”
    Now based in New York City and seeking a new job, Sidor notes that while Connecticut’s overhaul might be unique, similar scenarios are playing out around the country. “CVBs have evolved from a desk in a chamber of commerce to what they are today,” she says. “Taking that for granted, though, makes us all vulnerable.”