New panel would review how Collier tourist money is spent

— It’s tough times for tourism.

And in tough times, it’s a good time to look at how money is spent on tourism marketing, and whether it could be spent any better. That’s a driving force behind a plan to create a new committee that will review the ordinances in Collier County that determine how tourist tax dollars are doled out and how much is collected.

Murray Hendel, vice chairman of the Tourist Development Council, is pushing for the new committee. The TDC _ the county’s advisory board on tourism matters _ expects to select the committee at its monthly meeting later this month. “This business of tourism is extremely important to us. So anything we can do to update and tweak those ordinances that are in place and make them better is really important,” said Donna Fiala, chairwoman of the Collier County Commission and the TDC.

The new committee would operate as a subcommittee of the TDC. That way, county commissioners don’t have to approve the committee or appoint its members, which could take three or four months, Hendel explained.

Hendel wants to move quickly, as the tourism industry continues to struggle in a bad economy.

“I think it’s just appropriate,” he said. “All the indications are that hotels are down. Hotels are losing bookings and it’s a dire situation right now.”

The subcommittee would hold public hearings to get input from tourism and other business and community leaders.

TDC members unanimously supported the idea at their last council meeting a few weeks ago.

“We want to analyze and take a look at everything,” Hendel said.

Everything includes the amount of the tourist tax. There’s a 4 percent charge on hotel stays and other short-term rentals in Collier County. Hendel said part of the discussion may be to consider an increase. Tax collections are expected to be less this year in Collier because tourism is down.

“Lee County collects 5 percent,” Hendel said. “One of the questions I’ve been asked by people is, ‘Why don’t we equate with Lee County?’”

He also expects a discussion about how the tourist tax dollars are split up. Besides tourism marketing, the tax supports museums and other local attractions and events, and helps pay for beach improvements.

“I’m not saying there is going to be a different way,” Hendel said. “But I think it’s healthy once in a while to review this.”

He said discussions could also include the role of the bureau and other agencies, such as the local chambers of commerce, in tourism marketing.

“All I’m trying to do is maximize the positive impact of tourism,” Hendel said.

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