Welcome to the team, Keith Baker! And welcome back, Councilor Bree Long! It’s good to have election season over, and I look forward to working together to build our community. Special people with a heart for their neighbors run for local office. John Uzzo and Gary Cacy, thank you for running a hard campaign and volunteering to serve.
While the county tourism initiative passed, it was far from a unanimous decision. There were many questions about the wisdom of taxing visitors and about how the new tourism fund would interact with the existing city tourism fund. Will the administration of both funds be coordinated and well-monitored?
Speaking to those questions, the city has been assessing and collecting a 4% tax on hotels and motels for over a decade. The tax is paid by those who spend a night in those facilities. To say it more plainly, our tourists pay for the marketing that aims to bring more tourists to town. As tourism has become a solid leg of our economy, I would say the city tax is effective. Marketing = More Tourists = More Businesses = More Jobs is an equation that has worked in Tahlequah.
County commissioners and city officials have had conversations about how the two funds may interact, although no decisions have been made. I can share how the city tourism fund is currently administered. As we work to coordinate the two, some tweaks in the process may be required. We’ll work closely together to ensure both funds retain their independence and missions while reaping the benefits of a stronger, well-coordinated marketing effort.
The city currently contracts with the Chamber of Commerce to administer our tourism fund. While there is a marketing director who builds and deploys the campaigns, oversight and input is provided by the Tourism Council, which is a group of interested volunteers (and a Chamber committee) who build the budget, propose target initiatives and monitor effectiveness. This group reports to the Chamber of Commerce and to the City Council monthly.
While the work of the Tourism Council is administered by the Chamber, the tax funds remain in a city of Tahlequah bank account. The Chamber submits to the city documentation of its expenses as a request that a check be written. That documentation is reviewed by city accounting staff, who sometimes ask for further clarification. But most of the time, no questions are needed.
Does it work? Early last summer, as our businesses were reeling from the COVID shutdown and our case numbers were low, I asked our marketing director to go big with a campaign to remind people that the great outdoors is here in Cherokee County. She developed the “Day or a Stay” ads that you may have experienced. They ran on TV, radio, and in print. We may have had the record-breaking summer season even without this marketing – but that record-breaking season kept many of our businesses afloat, if not thriving.
Cherokee County voters, you chose to support a strong economy. I think you’re going to be happy with the result.
Sue Catron, former assistant vice president of Business and Finance at Northeastern State University, is mayor of Tahlequah.