Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - February 12, 2010

Editorial: 'Destination PA' — A success or not?

"Declare victory and move on!" was the key message of the Palo Alto City Council Monday night relating to the city's "Destination Palo Alto" tourism-attraction program.

The council was almost giddy as it leapt at the opportunity to let go of the $240,000-a-year program. Council members praised the program and wished it well in a new configuration free of city financial involvement.

The mood was a far cry from last November, when council members lambasted the effort for having inadequate "metrics" and being less than effectual. Their criticisms were so targeted that Anne Le Clair, president and CEO of the San Mateo County/Silicon Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau (which oversees the "Destination" program), quipped Monday night that she had considered wearing a bullet-proof vest to the meeting.

The "pilot" program was costing the city more than it was producing in terms of additional hotel-tax (officially "transient-occupancy tax") revenues directly credited to it — although the dismal economy makes a fair analysis difficult if not impossible.

In addition, Le Clair told the council, Palo Alto meetings and questions were taking up a disproportionate amount of her staff's time, distracting from the real work of drumming up more meetings and conferences for the area. There's got to be a "Palo Alto Process" joke in there someplace.

Yet all's well that ends well: The council opted to end the "Destination Palo Alto" contract and begin a process to fund the program by a modest add-on to hotel bills — thus saving Palo Alto up to $120,000 in this year's tight city budget.

The city's "Destination" website will still be online, and a local committee will continue to meet, so the program won't disappear <0x2104> it will merely become free of city-government oversight.

It's been a circuitous route for a program championed by former City Manager Frank Benest as a way to boost city tax revenues. But severing financial ties with the city with the hotels is a good move and will, one hopes, allow Destination Palo Alto eventually to return strong benefits to the city.

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