by Lisa A. Grimaldi | February 01, 2012

Times have been tough, and destination marketing organizations, also known as convention and visitor bureaus, have not been immune. Among challenges DMOs have faced are reduced hotel room tax collections (the average decline from 2008 to 2010 was 16 percent), cuts in funds provided by local and/or county and state governments, and increased scrutiny and accountability from CVB boards and politicians.

But by last summer, some welcome news finally could be discerned: According to the 2011 Profile of Destination Marketing Organizations compiled by the Washington, D.C.-based Destination Marketing Association International, CVB budgets had stabilized (the average budget in 2011 came to $2.8 million) and in some instances actually saw funding increases for the first time since 2008. Other DMOs that had been under the gun from local authorities have managed to restore a measure of credibility and turn around business.

On the following pages, M&C details how three major DMOs have weathered one of the most challenging periods the industry has ever faced.

Hotel at South Beach FloridaVisit Florida When Gov. Rick Scott took office in Florida last January, he inherited a state budget with an $3.6 billion shortfall and a mandate to create 700,000 jobs. A key aspect of the CEO-turned-governor's plan called for the dissolution of several state divisions, including Visit Florida, and rolling their combined functions into a single economic development organization, Enterprise Florida Inc. The proposal propelled Chris Thompson, Visit Florida's CEO, into the professional fight of his life.

Chris Thompson"It's fun to tell story now," Thompson says. "It certainly wasn't when we were in the middle of it, and I was wondering if we were going to survive."

Thompson, who has led the organization since 2009, had just 60 days to make a case for Visit Florida's continued existence before the state House was set to vote on the proposal last spring. "We were in a difficult situation. As a state organization, we couldn't lobby ourselves," he explains. "We had to walk a fine line and were dependent on the state's industry at large -- hotels, attractions, restaurants -- to defend our 15-year success story."

The industry mobilized its forces: Florida House committee members received 25,000 e-mails from tourism and hospitality trade union members who "told them how Visit Florida and the industry drives investment and strategic thinking," says Thompson.

He calls the e-mail blitz "the turning point" of the ordeal. "It created a pause in the legislature. They saw there really was something to this," he says.

Visit Florida's members and supporters also drove home some hard ROI statistics. They pointed out how Visit Florida touches, via its website, advertising and other means, 37 percent of visitors to the state. They also reminded the governor and lawmakers that tourism is the state's largest industry, employing more than a million workers whose jobs cannot be outsourced. And they shared research that shows how for every hotel room that opens in Florida, a new job is created.

The end result: Visit Florida is alive and well, with just a few minor adjustments. The organization no longer is a state office, but rather an independent, autonomous entity that has a contract with Enterprise Florida, the state's new economic development arm. (The state remains Visit Florida's main partner and funding source, notes Thompson.)

The other change: Visit Florida's budget was increased by 31 percent -- from $26.7 million to $34.9 million.