State Audit Lambastes Travel Oregon, Agency Defends Spending

Salaries and spending have been called into question at Oregon’s marketing agency, Travel Oregon.   

Travel Oregon, which is a semi-independent organization, has been found to be paying its executives a considerably high amount, compared to salaries at other state agencies. In addition, its contracts have been called into question by auditors.   

Even with a considerably lower budget than other state agencies, Travel Oregon’s director salary is much higher than others, standing at $381,423. For comparison, Oregon’s largest state agency, the Department of Human Services, has a director salary of $200,000. The director of Travel Oregon oversees 60 employees and a budget of almost $76 million, while the director of DHS oversees 8,617 staffers and a budget of $11.6 billion.   

Recently, The Oregon Tourism Commission granted Travel Oregon’s head, Todd Davidson, a 3% raise.  

TRAVEL OREGON ISN’T LIKE OTHER STATE AGENCIES: Travel Oregon, is considered a state agency, but it is also is semi-independent organization, and because of its semi-independent status, it does not have the same responsibilities or rules as other government organizations.   

It’s also funded differently, Travel Oregon does not receive money from the state’s general budget, but gets a high source of revenue from a 1.8 percent tax on hotel bills. Due to lodging tax rates and industry growth, Travel Oregon’s expenditures have risen to $77.1 million. Because of this increase in funds, the salaries of executives at the organization has also risen.  

Additionally, in comparison to other states, like Arizona and Colorado, auditors found that Travel Oregon pays considerably more to its executives than others who are kept under direct state control.  

NO-BID CONTRACT QUESTIONED: High salaries were not the only fact about Travel Oregon revealed during the audit. Auditors also discovered Travel Oregon’s contracting processes have been questionable. More specifically, its largest advertising contract has not been competitively bid on for ten years. Since the audit, Travel Oregon has put the contract out for bid again.   

DAVIDSON DEFENDS TRAVEL OREGON: In response to the audit, Travel Oregon CEO Todd Davidson claims that the agency is simply doing its job to bring tourists to Oregon. He claims on behalf of the organization that its money spent is an investment for the state, and is continuing to benefit Oregon as a whole.   

Davidson formally responded, stating, “Since the establishment of Travel Oregon, Oregon’s share of national travel spending has grown by more than $1 billion and has delivered economic growth across all regions of the state,”    

“Between 2003 and 2017, visitor spending increased by 107%. The agency’s various campaigns continue to realize excellent return on investment and support each of Oregon’s seven tourism regions. Every dollar spent in advertising and strategic marketing results in $157 dollars in direct tourism spending in communities throughout Oregon. That visitor spending translates to $8 dollars of additional state and local taxes. The investment in tourism envisioned nearly two decades ago is working.”  

By Cara Nixon