Marco in the ring in tourist ‘bed tax’ increase fight

It’s a question of whether to add a penny in the dollar to the county’s ‘bed tax’ or reallocate portions of existing funds for beach renourishment and museums

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  • Medwedeff also pointed out that Collier County has the lowest percentage of promotional dollars against all other vacation destinations in the state
This graph shows how some various Florida tourist destinations allocate bed tax money to promoting themselves. Submitted graphic

Photo by Submitted

This graph shows how some various Florida tourist destinations allocate bed tax money to promoting themselves. Submitted graphic

An insinuation that it is “frivolous” for companies to hold business conventions at upscale resorts, is among issues at the heart of a counter-push to attract more tourism to the Marco/Naples area.

The frivolity accusation, says Marco Island Marriott Resort GM Rick Medwedeff, stems from the federal government and also certain sections of the media targeting these destinations as boondoggles.

The opposite is true, Medwedeff contends, this area’s tourist tax is primarily driven by upscale resort properties.

As it stands now, tourism has dropped by about 20 percent this year, and is expected to decline further next year and the next, said Medwedeff, who also is a member of the Tourist Development Council of Collier County.

The drop means that the county’s “bed tax” revenue — currently $.04 on the dollar, which is paid by visitors and not residents — is dropping correspondingly, Medwedeff said.

That means, simply, even less money to promote the area when competitors such as Sarasota, Palm Beach, Miami and Fort Myers allocate proportionally far more bed tax money to tourism advertising, Medwedeff said.

In Collier County, he explained, the bed tax not only finances tourism promotion, but also beach renourishment and museum operating expenses.

This divvying up of already limited financial resources, Medwedeff said, is going to necessitate some “radical changes” in order to drive more tourism here in the next couple of years.

TDC suggestions to be put to the Board of Collier County Commissioners at a meeting either later this month or in October include:

n Access to $1 million that is already set aside as an “emergency marketing fund” to counteract harm caused by national media reporting on the effects of hurricanes in the area.

“We think the emergency is now,” Medwedeff said BCC members will be told at the upcoming meeting.

n The TDC would like to see $500,000 redirected from the 2010 emergency beach renourishment fund.

“At the moment, there is $3.6 million in reserve,” Medwedeff said. “We don’t want to take that, but want the $500,000 that would have been added in 2010 as well as the same amount in 2011.”

n The TDC also seeks $500,000 out of an anticipated $2 million addition to a major scheduled beach renourishment fund that at the moment stands at $6 million. The $6 million is separate from a $7 million fund held by FEMA.

n The slow phasing out — over about three years — of operating cost funding for local museums, currently covered by the bed tax.

“Here, we’re not disputing using (promotional) dollars to fund events that bring in tourists,” Medwedeff said.

“Our concern is that tourist tax should not be used for museum operating costs. Here (in Collier County) tourism is not driven by museums.”

Medwedeff also pointed out that Collier County has the lowest percentage of promotional dollars against all other vacation destinations in the state

Examples, he said, are the Keys with 75 percent, Palm Beach with 50 percent, and nearby Lee County with 55 percent.

By contrast, Collier’s figure is 17 percent.

All this maneuvering is to nix the specter of a raise in tourist bed tax from 4 to 5 pennies on the dollar, Medwedeff said.

“If we add another percentage,” he said, we end up having to drop rates to off-set that.

Beneficiaries of the tax, according to recent Naples Daily News reports, are obviously pushing for the 5 percent increase.

Museum and attraction operators in the county said it was critical for them to continue receiving the same support.

Museum attendance is up, despite the economy, and new museums are in the works in the county that will need financial help, curators said in the reports.

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