Bedford increase should help tourism promotion

How to increase tourism in Bedford County has come to the forefront in the issue of whether or not to increase the room tax from 2 to 5 percent.

The last large increase in the tourism budget occurred in 2008 when revenues increased by more than a third.

Why did this increase occur?

The Bedford Springs Resort re-opened, and suddenly there was another reason to come to Bedford County.

This increase had nothing to do with advertising or room tax rates. It had everything to do with the opportunity to experience a stay at an historic hotel, play a round of golf on an historic course, be pampered at an upscale spa and enjoy fine food.

The current trend in tourism promotion is to offer experiences. The more special experiences an area offers, the more successful it is.

Other areas recognize this fact and are working with their “tourism promotion partners” to improve their recreational opportunities, focus on innovations in agriculture, conduct special events and so on.

Act 18 of 2016, the new tourism law, makes provisions for these kinds of tourism promotion programs. Section 1770.10 (d) subsections (4) and (5) authorize “Programs, expenditures or grants that are directly and substantially related to tourism…”

The law does not define “programs, promotion, expenditure” and “grant,” which leaves these words up to local interpretation (within reason of course).

Other tourism promotion agencies are taking advantage of this opportunity to conduct tourism promotion programs that are not traditional advertising and marketing.

Also, other tourism promotion agencies utilize social media, in addition or in place of print media, billboards and mass advertisements.

Social media is often cheaper and provides better analytics than more traditional forms of marketing approaches. Thus, other areas are using data to drive their tourism promotion decisions in ways our current BCVB approach does not.

An increase in room tax to 5 percent will provide at least $12 million over a 10-year period. That’s a lot of money. It can be very helpful in improving the experiences Bedford County has to offer.

However, that is not the focus BCVB has chosen so far.

Jim Wehling