Working to fund state and local tourism
CCVC, WOT generating ideas to support tourism in Carbon County and Wyoming
January 8, 2020
Carbon County is large, diverse and has the most municipalities in one county in the state. The county also has a strong year round travel industry with outdoor activities for every season and a joint powers board that promotes tourism (see “Advocating for tourism” on page 6 of the January 1 edition of the Saratoga Sun).
The Carbon County Visitors Council (CCVC) is tasked with promoting Carbon County as a destination and is funded through a dedicated county wide lodging tax levied at two percent. The lodging tax is subject to voter referendum every four years.
The sales tax of six percent—four percent to the state, two percent to the county—makes the tax on a bill from a lodging establishment at eight percent.
The state of Oregon charges 1.8 percent state lodging tax, nine percent city lodging tax and three percent county lodging tax, totaling 13.8 percent on a bill. A hotel bill in Las Vegas will be 13.35 percent and, close to Wyoming, Denver is 10.75 percent. The cities of Houston and Anaheim charge 17 percent. The state of Connecticut charges 15 percent.
The county, as well as the State of Wyoming, relies heavily on the travel and tourism industry for economic development. In 2018, tourism generated $170.6 million in visitor spending in Carbon County, ranking five in travel impact among Wyoming’s 23 counties. More than 1,530 jobs were directly attributed to travel and tourism, and state and local tax revenues amounted to $9 million representing a $601 tax relief per Carbon County resident.
Wyoming’s statewide marketing investment currently ranks 31 in the U.S., significantly behind Montana, Utah, Colorado and South Dakota. Each of these states have dedicated funding sources coming from lodging taxes. The Wyoming Office of Tourism (WOT) gets its funding from the State. The last two legislative sessions have reduced WOT’s budget by 13.5 percent.
The Wyoming Lodging and Restaurants Association and Wyoming Travel Industry Coalition have indicated they would like to see one percent leisure and hospitality tax passed to fund WOT, but past legislatures were not interested.
Currently, Wyoming hospitality organizations are considering favoring a bill that would create a five percent statewide lodging tax. Three percent of it would be dedicated to funding tourism promotion and would remove WOT from the State’s general fund and place it on a more stable funding foundation. The other two percent would replace two percent of local option lodging tax, acting as a safety net for local promotion. This two percent would be permanent and would not need to be voted on every four years. Some communities in Wyoming have lodging taxes up to four percent as opposed to Carbon County’s two percent. Locally municipalities would still have the ability to vote on up to an additional two percent of local option lodging tax.
Communities with a two percent local option lodging tax would no longer need to renew them with the voters every four years. Towns with a three percent or four percent local option lodging tax would have two percent of its permanent funding stable and would be able to vote on the additional one percent or two percent every four years.
Taxes are not often popular in Wyoming, no matter what they are being used for, but it can be easy to understand why WOT wants to compete with surrounding states for a bigger piece of the visitor economy. Stable and competitive funding for tourism means more marketing initiatives can be put forth without worry of losing money.
This is not the case currently.
CCVC realizes how important destination marketing is to the county and its businesses. They track and have accountability on grants, funded events and destination marketing expenditures to get the highest possible Return-on-Investment. The board recently brought Young Strategies, a national destination marketing company, to Carbon County in October to talk to different leaders in the hospitality industry.
The attendees came up with challenges they see for Carbon County tourism. There is a need to rally the communities to work together towards a realistic vision and strategy. Building community recognition and acceptance that transformational change is needed and implementing the strategy with limited resources.
Young Strategies asked the question, ‘What one thing could Carbon County do to become a better or world-class visitor destination?’
Twenty-five percent of the Carbon County attendees to the symposium felt arts and entertainment needed to improve. It was also added that an increase in local shopping options in the smaller communities was needed, offering not just tourism trinkets but more practical items such as day to day clothing. A wider variety of restaurants and stores to support visitor needs was also suggested. Well trained employees are considered essential to making businesses work and a pool of competent workers has to be established.
Eighteen percent felt infrastructure was lacking to some degree. It was said some towns needed to clean up the entrances as visitors came in. Broadband infrastructure and cell coverage had to be improved with an increase of Wi-Fi and cell services available across the county. Other infrastructure improvements suggested, were bike and walking paths; development of parks; more signage on I-80 and US 30 to let visitors know of the towns and assets.
Ten percent felt partnership strength and support between agencies and organizations that are county and town governments was important. They wanted the county commissioners to be active and support the tourism industry. It was noted the county seat, Rawlins, does not get involved with the CCVC very much and has not had a representative to the CCVC board for over a year. Outlying communities need help to feature local attractions and events they have by working with local media through feature stories and advertising.
Carbon County businesses and residents benefit from tourism already and whether it is through more destination marketing or locals being ambassadors for their communities, this industry can create jobs for the future generations.
It just takes commitment, funding and innovative ways to get both.