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City keeps tourism bidders secret

Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal

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dh051215k/a-sec-metro/05/12/2015–Civic Plaza as seen from the presidential suite of the Hyatt Regency in downtown Albuquerque, photographed on Tuesday May 12, 2015. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

The administration of Mayor Richard Berry has confirmed there are four bidders for a contract worth about $5.3 million a year to do the work now handled by the Albuquerque Convention & Visitors Bureau but is refusing to disclose who they are.

A spokeswoman for the mayor also refused a Journal request to provide the names of a committee made up of city employees and tourism industry representatives who will review the proposals and ultimately make a recommendation of an award to the City Council.

Committee members are selected by the department issuing the request for proposals – in this case, the Economic Development Department – and the mayor or his designee gives final approval.

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The city said it based its refusal to disclose the names of bidders on an ordinance that says the contents of the bids are confidential until an award is made. Spokeswoman Rhiannon Schroeder of the Mayor’s Office said the city does not disclose committee members’ names to prevent bidders from trying to influence them.

Susan Boe, executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, said she sees no justifiable reason for withholding the names of the bidders, especially because the deadline to submit proposals has passed. Revealing their identities is not akin to disclosing specifics of their proposals, she noted.

When “redacting names or keeping information private, there is usually a policy reason for it that makes sense, and I’m hard-pressed to come up with a policy reason in this case for keeping those (bidders’) names private,” she said.

Boe also disputed the notion that the committee members’ names should be held back.

Response to the city’s request for proposals for the group sales/services and destination marketing contract were due Monday, and an ACVB official said the organization had submitted a bid.

From its inception in 1980 until the early 2000s, ACVB handled the destination marketing and group/sales service duties as a sole-source contractor. This is just the third time since then that the city has invited competitive bids on the contract and, for the first time, respondents were allowed the option to present a combined bid for marketing and sales, or to bid on either sales or marketing.

Only ACVB submitted bids in the other two instances in which the services were put out to bid, said Tania Armenta, ACVB’s chief operating and marketing officer.

She confirmed that the organization is again bidding for the contract, funded through the city’s lodgers tax and hospitality fee.

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But with ACVB’s current contract set to expire June 30, three other vendors have submitted proposals.

“We don’t have any other clients; we have no other purpose,” Armenta said of the ACVB, a private, nonprofit organization that grew out of the local Chamber of Commerce in 1980. “We solely exist for this.”

ACVB has handled the city’s convention sales and destination marketing for 35 years, and its officials tout current lodger’s tax revenue gains and hospitality-related employment growth as signs of its effectiveness.

However, its performance has drawn some recent scrutiny.

The Greater Albuquerque Innkeepers Association, which represents about 60 hotels, wrote a letter to ACVB in February expressing no confidence in CEO Dale Lockett and Vice President for Sales Rob Enriquez. The two groups have since publicly announced their intention to work together for the good of the local hospitality industry, but the discontent apparently did not end there.

City Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry told the Journal last month that individual hotel owners had voiced concerns directly with the city.

Partly because of that input, the city will have more say in how its convention sales contractor operates in the future. According to the current request for proposals, the city will dictate the composition of the contractor’s board of directors – including a requirement that 50 percent of members come from the hotel industry – and have the ability to veto the organization’s choice of CEO. It also will require the contractor to propose and adhere to clearly defined performance measurements.

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