Plover officials see positives in new tourism commission
Plover officials do not believe there will be a significant financial impact to the village as they implement a relatively new state law that requires the village to form a Tourism Commission.
The Village Board approved forming the five-member commission during its Village Board meeting Wednesday, Aug. 17.
The new commission will be made up of the Village Board President Tom Davies, another board member, a representative from the hotel/motel industry, and two citizens. Davies will make the appointments, which will come before the Village Board for approval at a future meeting.
The new state law, which passed in July 2015, was in part created to reduce mismanagement of room tax funds. Some municipalities were shifting tourism-boosting funds into their general fund accounts. The municipalities did not include Plover, Stevens Point or the town of Plover.
Tourism promotion dollars are generated through room tax collected from each hotel room stay in the community. A small tax is added on to the bill and is paid to the municipality.
Plover adopted a room tax ordinance in 1992, and historically has used the money to fund seasonal parks employees and parks maintenance as the parks hold tourism-generating events.
The 2015 law included an option for the creation of a regional tourism commission, or Zone Commission, or municipalities could form their own individual Tourism Commission. While the individual commission serves to oversee the room tax dollars collected in the municipality, the commission, by law, must contract with a tourism entity for the purpose of tourism promotion, which in Portage County is the Stevens Point Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (SPACVB).
After Plover officials met with Stevens Point officials, both came to an agreement that individual commissions would serve the municipalities better. Stevens Point Common Council approved forming its commission in June.
Moving forward, Plover will retain 30 percent of the room tax dollars with the remaining 70 percent being handed over to the SPACVB. Plover officials said they were fine with that set up.
“They’ve done an excellent job for us,” community development manager Richard Holden said.
In 2015, the village of Plover collected $248,683 in room tax, about 42.5 percent, or $105,690, of which went to the SPACVB.
Under the new state law, there would be a gradual change in the amount of room tax that the village can retain over the next five years. For 2017, according to law, the village would be able to retain $132,345, or about $10,535 less than last year.
The SPACVB has proposed that a portion of those room tax dollars that now will come to it be placed in a Tourism Development Grant Fund, whereby the municipalities and nonprofit organizations within each municipality would be able to apply for grants related to tourism. With this grant program, Plover officials say they will not have to look to their general budget for the $10,500 shortfall.
“We’re put in a real challenging position with our tax limits,” Holden said. “The extra dollars they’ll be getting will be in the grant program … so the village or groups within the village can apply.”
The SPACVB initially advocated for the Zone Tourism Commission because it promotes the region rather than specific municipalities, SPACVB Executive Director Sara Brish said.
“Tourism is a competitive industry,” she said. “To be successful we need to have a strategic and deliberate approach. We need to collaboratively promote the brand assets in the region, across municipal boundaries, because travelers don’t recognize municipal borders. Instead they plan their visits based on regional assets.”
Last year, visitors spent $119.6 million in Portage County, the fourth consecutive year that traveler expenditures topped $100 million in the county, according to Wisconsin Department of Tourism figures. That spending was an increase of nearly 3.75 percent from the previous year. Portage County in the past five years has seen visitor spending increase by $21.7 million. The Department of Tourism does not record visitor spending by municipality.
Brish said the increase in visitor spending locally can be attributed to several factors including successful marketing campaigns, hosting sporting events and a strong meeting and convention market in 2015.
“It also demonstrates that people are learning about all of the great offerings we have here, and generating a positive impact for the communities throughout Portage County,” she said.
“The strong growth in tourism for Portage County tells us a lot about the success of our efforts promoting the region, from the leisure visitor and meeting planner to sports events and groups,” Brish said. “The work that we do behind the scenes often goes unnoticed, but it makes a positive impact in Portage County communities and directly supports our local businesses.”
Though figures are not yet available for this year, Brish said 2016 is looking to be another strong year, in part due to hosting the National Izaak Walton League Convention and the Gus Macker basketball tournament, both of which are new events in Portage County this year.