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Visit Durango’s executive director resigns

Transition comes as organization falls under scrutiny by local governments
Visit Durango Executive Director Rachel Brown’s last day will be Friday. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

The executive director of Visit Durango, the area destination management and marketing organization, informed the board of directors Thursday of her intention to resign.

Rachel Brown’s last day on the job will be Friday, the organization said in a news release Tuesday morning.

The release did not give a reason for her resignation.

In an email to The Durango Herald, Brown said, “I had been considering resignation for some time and decided that now is the right moment to pursue new opportunities.”

Brown

Board members held an executive session on Thursday to discuss what Board President Jenny Roberts called a “restructuring” of the organization. Brown, who stepped into the role in November 2019, had previously discussed a potential departure with the board.

Roberts said the restructuring plan under consideration by the board last week did, in essence, involve replacing the organization’s director. Brown sent her email during the board’s meeting.

Visit Durango’s Executive Committee will lead the organization until a new director is hired, which could be some time, Roberts said.

Under her leadership, Visit Durango transitioned from being a destination marketing organization to a destination management and marketing organization. The change included more strategic deployment of marketing materials, which now target specific audiences and focus on a message of sustainability.

Visit Durango maintains a “do not promote” list to prevent overuse of crowded destinations and only markets to recruit visitors during the offseason.

“Visit Durango is now recognized globally as a leader in sustainable tourism,” Brown wrote in her email. “I am pleased that our destination has taken significant steps towards preserving La Plata County for future generations.”

The leadership shake-up also comes as Visit Durango has fallen under the scrutinous eye of city and county officials.

Around 90% of the organization’s $3.2 million annual budget comes from the lodgers tax collected in the city of Durango and La Plata County. The city collects a 5.25% tax on short-term stays inside city limits and the county collects a 2% tax on stays inside the county but outside city limits, all of which is passed through to Visit Durango.

The city of Durango passes through 55% of the 5.25% tax to the organization – about $1.9 million last year.

Earlier this year, county officials went public with an early stage idea to reallocate up to half the 2% lodgers tax revenue. The county tax brings in around $1 million annually, and voters could decide to slash Visit Durango’s budget by up to $500,000, or 15%, if a question went to vote and passed.

In January, the city transitioned to a fee-for-services invoice system and asked that Visit Durango submit itemized invoices before receiving reimbursement each month. The practice is in accordance with city norms for invoicing other contractors, said spokesman Tom Sluis. Sluis serves as the city’s liaison to Visit Durango.

Members of the public and city officials had begun to demand more accountability and transparency.

“We’re kind of hammering home the point with Visit Durango, over the past few years … ‘you have to be prepared to explain to council and to the public and to anyone essentially, who asks, where's the money going?’” Sluis said.

Drafts of invoices annotated by the city finance department obtained through a Colorado Open Records Act request revealed that the organization struggled in the early months of 2024 to deliver adequately specific information.

“It’s been tricky, and so yes, there have been a lot of tensions involved with that move just trying to get the invoices submitted,” Roberts said. “The city would return them (and say) ‘no, we need them this way.’”

Brown bore the brunt of that conflict, Roberts said.

“The relationship between Visit Durango and the City has, historically, always had its ups and downs,” Brown wrote in response to a question addressing the conflict.

Part of the impetus to restructure Visit Durango’s board and operations, considered by the board Thursday, was in response to the county’s musing about a reallocation of lodgers tax revenue and the city’s increased oversight.

“Some of this was brought about because we took a look at how we were doing business, and we need to be … a stronger partner and make sure that the community is our partner and make sure the city and the county are all on the same page,” Roberts said.

rschafir@durangoherald.com



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