City Council to approve Visit Austin budget, year after investigation

Austin City Hall_218003

AUSTIN, (KXAN) — City Council is set to approve the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau budget for the coming fiscal year, one year after a KXAN investigation found questionable spending by the nonprofit, including thousands of tax dollars spent on alcohol, entertainment and gifts.

Following our investigation in September 2017, City Council briefly postponed approving a budget for the bureau, commonly called Visit Austin, and called for an audit of the largely tax-funded nonprofit. 

  • You can read the full investigation here.

Visit Austin’s overall budget has trended down in recent years, and this fiscal year’s proposed budget is smaller than the last. The agency proposed a total budget of $15.7 million, with $13.1 million (83 percent) coming from the city. The remaining $2.58 million would come from private sector revenue, such as retail, billed services, donations, and partnership revenue, according to city documents.

Visit Austin promotes the city as a tourist destination and lures conventions to town. Most of its budget comes from hotel occupancy taxes, which are levied on hotel bills. Each year council approves the Visit Austin’s budget and allocation of hotel occupancy taxes. In response to KXAN’s 2017 investigation, Visit Austin said the economic benefit it brought to town vastly exceeded the money it charged on the credit cards.

Last year, KXAN examined two years of Visit Austin’s American Express credit card receipts. The line-by-line analysis found nearly half a million dollars spent on alcohol at nightclubs, high-end dinners, jewelry, prepaid credit gift cards and more. Some particulars: Visit Austin bought 75 tickets to Lady Gaga concert at venues outside Texas for more than $18,000 and paid $10,000 for Kendra Scott jewelry, among many other purchases that caught the attention of City Council members.

“There were some expenditures, in my opinion, that weren’t necessarily as in support of Austin musicians as they should have been,” Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo said in 2017.

Council ultimately approved Visit Austin’s budget last year, and the bureau agreed to use private funds for alcohol purchases going forward. Visit Austin CEO Tom Noonan also said the organization would exclusively use local musicians to promote the city’s music scene.

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