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Raise, bonus approved for head of Las Vegas tourism agency

Updated June 11, 2019 - 6:56 pm

Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority President and CEO Steve Hill was awarded a 5 percent salary boost and a $150,000 bonus Tuesday for his first nine months on the job — bringing his total compensation for that time to around $525,000.

Hill took the helm of the agency Sept. 1, after former CEO Rossi Ralenkotter retired amid separate investigations by the Metropolitan Police Department and the Review-Journal into misspending of public funds at the agency. The Nevada Commission on Ethics is now also investigating.

In Tuesday’s meeting, board member Marilyn Spiegel, a Wynn Resorts executive who chairs the Compensation Committee, praised Hill for engineering a smooth transition from the organization’s recent controversies.

“There were many comments about the challenges organizations have when leadership moves from one individual to another and that in the moving of the baton, sometimes the baton drops,” Spiegel told Hill and the board. “In this particular situation, the baton was picked up and the acceleration and speed were very admirable. We certainly believe that it was an excellent year for your performance.”

Several former longtime LVCVA executives are accused of using airline gift cards bought by the tourism agency for personal travel. Former Chief Marketing Officer Cathy Tull, who resigned her position in April, Brig Lawson, former director of business partnerships, who resigned in May 2018, and Ralenkotter are central figures in the police investigation.

Its investigation was spurred by a Review-Journal investigation and a series of stories on the misspending of public funds by the LVCVA. Lawson was arrested in March on theft charges; Tull and Ralenkotter reimbursed the LVCVA for flights purchased with gift cards. All of them have denied wrongdoing.

Big bonuses

The LVCVA board has a track record of delivering high levels of compensation to its CEO.

In 2017, Ralenkotter received a 50 percent bonus — the maximum amount permitted — of $208,000.

Last year, Ralenkotter received a roughly 30 percent bonus, or $132,000. But that was on top of a $53,000 separation agreement and a $270,000 post-retirement consulting contract, a total package worth $455,000.

Hill was told when he became CEO that he’d get $375,000 a year in base salary and be eligible for a 40 percent bonus.

Board member Bill Noonan, a Boyd Gaming Corp. executive, said Hill’s familiarity with issues enabled him to move faster on amending agency policy.

One of Hill’s first tasks was to review, amend and clarify the organization’s travel and expense policies.

“If we had brought in somebody from outside, probably it would have taken them months before they would have been in a position to identify policy weaknesses that needed to be enhanced,” Noonan said.

“He was very quick to tackle a lot of that policy development around governance of the organization so I believe unless something new comes up, I think he’s strengthened all of our policies,” he said. “There’s a lot of new faces and I think he’s recruited some good people and he’s a good mentor for those new executives.”

Work to be done

A former board member said there’s still work to be done.

“It’s my belief that the Ethics Commission is doing its job and some of the past practices that have been uncovered have been fixed,” said North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee, a former board member and one of Ralenkotter’s biggest critics.

“I’m only hoping that in the future we can get this cloud to go behind us with the right leadership and to continue moving us” toward being the top destination and trade-show host in the country, he said.

Hill listed five goals Tuesday for the 2019-20 fiscal year, all of them zeroing in on the bid to draw more than 42.9 million visitors to Southern Nevada, a record achieved in 2016.

Hill said his strategy to achieve record visitation in 2020 will be enhanced by rolling out a new Las Vegas global brand campaign that appeals across generations.

Hill wants to increase digital engagements by 10 percent, to optimize the LVCVA’s websites to inspire, inform and help travelers plan their trips. He also wants to surpass 11 million web visits and increase referrals to partner sales by 8 percent.

Hill said he expects to leverage major events, such as next April’s NFL Draft, to increase domestic and international exposure.

Redesigned marketing initiatives also are planned for VisitLaughlin.com and VisitMesquite.com, the LVCVA’s extended destination marketing initiatives.

More flights needed

Riding high with the recent addition of KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and El Al Airlines flights, Hill looks to increase international air capacity by 2 percent and domestic capacity by 4 percent.

A large part of Hill’s 2019-20 goals will be to continue to deliver the $1.4 billion expansion and renovation of the Las Vegas Convention Center on time and on budget with the use of enhanced wayfinding technology, connectivity and advertising.

A key part of enhancing the customer and guest experience at the Convention Center will be to make its food and beverage offerings an asset. The LVCVA has begun that by partnering with food and beverage contractor Centerplate.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.

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