Article By Stacy Ross
A reduction in state funds for tourism promotion is raising concern after Gov. Eric Greitens cut the Missouri Tourism Commission’s budget in half. The commission suffered a similar cut last year.
“I definitely feel that the governor’s plan to cut tourism commission funding is a big mistake,” said Bill Tirone, General Manager of the Hiltons of Branson. “When tourists and conventions come to town, they spend money.”
The state legislature budgeted $21 million for the commission before Greitens cut it to $11 million. The money goes toward marketing the state as a destination and funds a popular co-op program through which the state pays 50 percent of the cost of advertising for hotels, tourism associations and individual properties.
“The state is getting twice the bang for the buck,” said Marci Bennett, executive director of the Missouri Association of Convention & Visitors Bureaus, of the co-op program. “Our number of visitors is probably going to be declining. We just came off a record year. In the future that may not be the case.”
“Obviously it’s going to hurt,” said Kurt Mayo, executive director of the Hotel and Lodging Association of Greater Kansas City. “It may not hurt right away. A lot of this is planting the seed to come to Missouri. These things are planned two, three, four years out. This is the second year it’s been cut.”
“In the past, the state has been close to the top among surrounding states as far as marketing budgets go”, Bennett said. Now the state is falling behind.
Tirone agrees. “If we’re not out marketing our brand, which is the state of Missouri, there are other markets that are aggressively marketing and will beat us to the punch,” he said. “The state will see a decrease in tax revenue because they’ve forgotten about Missouri. They’ve gone to Chicago or Dallas or Florida.”
“The tourism commission dollars are an investment that pays off by bringing in new revenue with little expense”, Bennett said. “We in the tourism industry want them to bring money into the state,” she said. “They have a wonderful time and they leave their dollars here and go home. We don’t have to educate their children. We don’t have to build roads for them.”
Continuing to bring a steady stream of tourists pays dividends to Missouri taxpayers. According to Explore St Louis,
each household in St. Louis City and St. Louis County receives $1,121 per year in tax savings as a result of travel and tourism.
There’s some hope: The Missouri Travel Council announced in late February that a budget proposal working its way through the legislative committee process would add $5 million back into the department’s budget.
“We have a long way to go,” said Dale Amick, legislative consultant for the travel council. “The budget usually isn’t finalized until the end of May.
“There’s good support in the legislature for tourism, so we’ll see what happens.”