Bend City Councilors explored the definition of tourism, as well as where dollars from the city’s tourism fund should go.
“There have been a lot of questions about what the tourism fund is, and how we can use it,” the city of Bend Economic Development Director Carolyn Eagan told the councilors Wednesday night during the work session.
As of the end of February, Eagan said the city had collected about $5.5 million in transient room taxes.
The majority of transient room taxes, collected within the city limits from lodging operators, go into the general fund. Eagan explained 30 percent of the first 9 percent of transient room taxes collected go towards the tourism fund, with the other portion going into the city’s general fund. She said 70 percent of the next 1.4 percent collected also go into the tourism fund, with the other portion going towards police and fire.
“We do give a considerable about of money to the tourism fund, but more than twice that is going into the general fund,” she said.
The City of Bend allocated $2.2 million to Visit Bend, the city’s tourism agency, last year. To put that into perspective, Deschutes County allocated $1.3 million last year to the Central Oregon Visitors Association, the region’s tourism agency.
According to Oregon State Law, tourism means economic activity resulting from tourists. Tourism promotion is considered:
- Advertising, publicizing or distributing information for the purpose of attracting and welcoming tourists;
- Conducting strategic planning and research necessary to stimulate future tourism development;
- Operating tourism promotion agencies; and
- Marketing special events and festivals designed to attract tourists.
The Bend City Council was surprised to learn the state’s definition of a tourist:
“Tourist means person who, for business, pleasure, recreation or participation in events related to the arts, heritage or culture, travels from the community in which that person is a resident to a different community that is separate, distinct from and unrelated to the persons community of residence, and that trip requires the person to travel more than 50 miles from the community of residence; or includes an overnight stay.”
“We may have been operating under some misconceptions here about what this money is required to go towards,” said Mayor Jim Clinton.
Eagan said she wanted to give the presentation to council to make sure there was a clear understanding about how much money was at stake and how it could be allocated.
“We’re talking about $2.5 million, maybe more this year, (and) $2.9 million perhaps next year,” she said. “All of this is incredible, because that means you are incrementally increasing your revenue in the general fund.”
Since January 2015, the contract with Visit Bend, as well as Visit Bend’s budget and business plan has been overseen by the Bend Economic Development Advisory Board (BEDAB). Eagan said the advisory board is getting ready to schedule a review of the 2016-17 Visit Bend business plan.
The advisory board reviews the business plan from a fiscal responsibility not a marketing responsibility, said BEDAB Chair Wally Corwin. In doing so, he said a few shortcomings have been identified, including fewer opportunities for Visit Bend to present in public what their plan is because BEDAB doesn’t have the audience that a city council meeting would have, nor do the tourism opponents attend BEDAB meetings.
“We’re not the proper body to direct how they achieve that broad community-based goal on how they spend their tourism funds,” Corwin said.
Visit Bend best understands how to deploy the excess funds, said Councilor Doug Knight. Visit Bend should have a discussion with council to create a plan for additional funds, he said.
“It may also be that we need to have additional infrastructure that better accommodates the tourists that we’ve advertised to and decided to come to our community,” Knight said, giving the example of a bus that runs from the Old Mill to downtown.
When it comes to how excess tourism revenue should be spent, Councilor Victor Chudowsky said there needs to be clear criteria if the money is going to go to a different organization.
Because of Visit Bend’s success, there are some sensitivities, said Councilor Sally Russell. She believes there are opportunities to have a roundtable discussion with Visit Bend about shifting tourism strategies and priorities.
Clinton suggested not only having a roundtable, but also a public hearing on Visit Bend’s business plan in order for Visit Bend to get feedback from council and the community.
Visit Bend is doing an outstanding job, said Councilor Nathan Boddie. He cautioned council against telling the tourism agency how to do its job.
“The elbow room that we lack in the summer is the butter on the bread for our local economy and job creation,” Boddie said.
To learn more about tourism and taxes, attend the Bend Chamber’s What’s Brewing: Tourism & Taxes on March 15: http://business.bendchamber.org/events/details/what-s-brewing-tourism-taxes-what-s-in-it-for-you-2457.