Happy New Year! State Fiscal New Year, that is. July marks the beginning of the state’s budget year and is full of activity creating reports, and calculating year-end sums, and most importantly, planning our budget for FY 12.
I’ll give readers some insight into a couple of Tourism Division the elements that consume 90 percent of the two percent lodging tax (the “bed tax”) collected on the sale of every private room and campsite in Idaho: Division of Tourism marketing activities, and the Idaho Travel Council Regional Tourism Grant program.
Although funded from the same source, there is a huge difference in when the monies are used: the Division spends funds as they are collected by the tax commission. The grant program, in contrast, awards funds only once a year; taxes collected accumulate for 12 months until they are distributed.
Division of Tourism
As lodging receipts go, so does the marketing budget of the Division of Tourism. FY 11 took us on a wild ride. It started off with a bang (July 2010—no pun intended), but suddenly fizzled. Mother Nature gifted us with amazing snow throughout the state, but it didn’t bring the tourists in the second and third quarters of the fiscal year (Oct-Mar) in spite of some major milestone celebrations at Sun Valley, Lost Trail, and Brundage.
Spring was cool and soggy, thanks to lingering snowfall and substantial snowpack, and very likely, snowsport burnout. We were preparing for some belt tightening, but then collections surprised us with some significant increases. Here is a link to the monthly collections. (The data is reported in the month it was received by the Tax Commission, so it represents sales in the previous month.)
When all was said and done, collections for FY 11 were 5.71 percent over the previous year and gave us cautious optimism for the FY 12; we are budgeting for a modest 5.0 percent gain during FY 12. The marketing plan will be finalized at the October Idaho Travel Council meeting, and will be available on www.tourism.idaho.gov at that time.
Idaho Travel Council Regional Tourism Grant Program
On August 3, the Idaho Travel Council awarded twenty-eight grants for the 2011-12 grant cycle. You will find a complete list of the grant awards by clicking here. You can also access a history of the grant awards from the program’s inception in 1982.
The total number of grant applications has been declining over the past few years, not because the money isn’t needed or used, but because of more cooperation between regional travel organizations and smaller local organizations. What this consolidation does is strengthen the entire grant program in a region due to synergy and elimination of redundant or duplicative programs. For instance, a small urban center may have a terrific tourism-related attraction or event, but not enough other activities or venues to lure visitors for an over-night stay. However, they do have the makings of a fantastic day- or half-day trip that could be the centerpiece of a weekend (or longer) stay in a larger nearby town.
The grant is a self-perpetuating program in that taxes collected in a region are returned to that region in the form of marketing grants. Applicants submit what is in essence a 14-month marketing plan and budget, and the Idaho Travel Council representative for the corresponding regions reviews the plan and awards grants to programs which will complement each other, the regional plan, and the state marketing program.
If you look at the history grants awards, you will see that marketing monies for some very popular and successful events have been awarded in the past, but no longer receive funds–events like the Basque Festival and the Burley Regatta. Rather than indicating a lack of support, the withdrawal of funds can be a measure of success; grant funds may be allocated for a new event or attraction to help get it off the ground. Apron strings are cut when the event is “fully subscribed,” tourism speak meaning local lodging properties are filled, and the mission of the Division of Tourism is realized.
Idaho Travel Council
I’ve mentioned the Idaho Travel Council in passing, but the Council is a very important part of both the grant program and the state marketing program. The Council consists of industry professionals who represent and reside in each of the seven travel regions, and an additional member at-large. (The details of how a person gets to be an ITC representative can be found here.
If you know anything about Idaho, you know that there are so many interesting and exciting places to see, things to do, and places to stay that no group of eight people could possibly get a handle on the entire state. The ITC representative is the conduit by which grantees and other tourism-related folks let us know what’s happening.
Under the advice of the ITC, the Division carries out its own marketing plan with their share of the lodging tax. The Council reviews the quarterly budget, and has input on adjustments when tax collections necessitate alternation to the marketing plan.
To recap: we’re starting this fiscal year off in stable shape financially, and are expecting a year of modest growth. As we have done in the past, we will continue to market our state as a destination for visitors who seek a rich vacation experience at a modest price, where you can expect the unexpected, and where our industry remains hale and hearty throughout the next fiscal year.
Thanks for reading.
Until next time, Cathy