How to Ask For Tax Dollars to Market Your Rural Tourism Destination

by Joanne Steele on June 8, 2010

It’s that time of year in the United States, when town, county and state governments are setting next year’s budgets, including tax dollars designated for tourism marketing.  I was inspired by an interesting article on tourism marketing funding in one of the US’s top rural destinations – the small towns of Cape Cod. Read and take heart.Begging Dog

BUT…Regardless of the fact that tourism is one of the top economic engines worldwide, money for local and regional tourism marketing is the first to go when money gets tight.

Cutting funding for tourism marketing is a real life version of killing the goose that laid the golden egg.

This is the first spring in the past 11 years that I haven’t put my head on the governmental chopping block, begging for a few dollars to market the rural towns in my area. These towns, like many rural areas,  have become increasingly dependent on tourism to make ends meet.

Here’s what I learned that small town chambers and visitors bureaus should consider as they go, hat in hand to ask for a portion of the bed tax collected in their community.

1. Give your town council an irresistible reason to support your efforts.

Give them specific ways you’ll use the money including how you’ll measure the success of your project.

That measurement piece is hard, because nobody has money for big studies, even those Cape Cod towns with relatively big budgets.

Here are some measurement alternatives:

Are you going to use the money to keep your visitors’ bureau doors open? Count visitors using that service, both phone, email and walking through the door.

Are you going to fund an event? Count profits for vendors, crowd numbers, heads in beds, and anecdotal info from business owners.

Are you going to finance a new website? Stress that you will be tracking “unique visits” to the site, not “hits”. Give them a plan for how that website will be self-sustaining in the future.

2. Make a reasonable request from the very beginning.

It’s human nature to ask for more than you need, assuming that it’s inevitable that you’re going to get axed. Take a different tack.

It’s hard on the town or county’s governing board to always be the bad guys cutting, cutting, cutting. Give them a reasonable budget with great specifics on how the money will be use, AND stress that you’re part of their team, working to make things work in these hard economic times.

3. Put on a great, SHORT presentation with clear data on the economic value of tourism to your area.

For most areas in the US, the hotel or bed taxes are the major source of general fund monies that are under the direct control of the council or commission. Stress that you are part of the team, supporting the only industry that not only helps the local economy, but supports governmental projects through those bed taxes. These include things that are important to the whole town like road repairs, garbage and sewer projects, libraries and all the other things that are paid for from your town’s general fund.

Educate your council to the fact that in rural areas, funding for tourism marketing does what governments are supposed to do – taking on projects that individuals can’t do alone. Small mom & pop stores, adventure businesses, restaurants and motels need to be marketed together to have any chance of success. Their success spells success for a whole rural community – great value for those tax dollars. (More on building that collaboration among businesses in this past post…)

4. Lobby your council people before the big vote.

Enlist the help of your whole business community. Educate the townspeople about how your tourism marketing and visitor services programs help the whole town. Suggest that they call or email their council members, asking them to support funding your programs and projects.

5. Don’t give up.

It’s going to be a hard year. Take what you get. Use it wisely. Carefully track your success throughout the year. Update your town or county council regularly, even if the amount you received this year is miniscule.

Start planning your request for next year even earlier, building on all the good will you’ve created by your relentless self promotion throughout this year.

Good Luck! Let us know how your requests for funding went.

Photo by Cordey on Flickr

1 Daryl Phillips June 8, 2010 at 1:43 pm

Timely post. I had a conversation today with one of my Tennessee Economic & Community Development contacts related to quantifying the economic impact of tourism (especially events).

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