Quad-City hoteliers listened with interest Thursday as nearby tourism bureaus discussed how new destination marketing fees and other initiatives are bolstering their tourism efforts.
Tourism leaders from Burlington and Dubuque, Iowa, as well as Rockford, Illinois, shared their early successes during a panel discussion hosted by the Quad-Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau at the TaxSlayer Center in downtown Moline.
Chelsea Lerud, executive director of Greater Burlington, told nearly 40 area hotel and tourism leaders that the new fee was driven by the development of a new indoor sports complex project there. As of May, participating hotels began charging a 1.65 percent fee to their guests' bills.
The money, Lerud added, will be used to create a tourism incentive fund to help support efforts to attract tournament to the new complex. "It's a way we're able to start raising money to fill the complex from the very beginning."
Seven of Burlington's nine hotels already are participating, she said, estimating the fees will raise about $200,000 a year.
In Dubuque, a flat $1 destination fee now is added to hotel bills by participating hotels, which collect the fees for a separate tourism fund, said Keith Rahe, president/CEO of Travel Dubuque.
Launched in September 2016, he said five Dubuque properties are participating and four more are looking at the program. Rahe said customers are aware they can opt out of the voluntary fee. But in the program's 16 months, he said "We have not had one person say 'Hey, I want this (fee) off my bill.'"
Rahe said the independent committee, made up of the participating hotels, vote on the fund's allocation. "It could be (used for bidding fees) for conventions. It could be for sporting events."
"We're very happy with where we're at, but it's a work in progress," he said.
John Groh, president/CEO of Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, said instead of a destination fee the Rockford bureau is working on a new investment model including increasing tourism investment by the private and public sectors. "Our approach is if we're doing a good job for the community, the business community should support us."
In addition, a newly formed foundation is opening the door to new funding sources as well as positioning the bureau to assist financially with community infrastructure issues such as streetscaping.
Joe Taylor, the Quad-Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau president and CEO, said the informational meeting was designed to begin a conversation about revenue options.
He said with 1 million overnight stays a year in the Quad-Cities, if 100 percent of the hotels would participate such a fund and charge $1 a night it would have the potential of creating $1 million in additional funding. "We're not going to get $1 million," he said. "But what if we had 1/10 of the hotels participate that would $100,000..."
Deanna Jensen-Valliere, chair of the Quad-Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau's Board of Directors, said a fee or some sort of new funding is needed to help the bureau be competitive. She said the Quad-Cities' budget is the lowest among all the Iowa tourism bureaus. "So we already are falling behind," she said.
Both Jessica Licko-Avants, area sales director of Aimbridge Hospitality, which owns four Quad-City hotels including the Fairfield Inns in Davenport and Moline, and Terris Cooper, general manager of the Hotel Blackhawk, welcome the idea of any effort that helps build a stronger culture of tourism across the Quad-Cities.
"Tourism is definitely the driver of the community, we just need to realize that," Cooper said. While he favors some kind of charge, he said guests might not react as positively paying it if is is a fee versus if it were a tax. "We can't get away from taxes," he said.
Licko-Avants, secretary of the Quad-City Lodging Association, said a new fee could help the industry raise its profile. "Unfortunately, I don't think the Quad-Cities sees us as a tourism community. We are not Florida... but we are a tourism community."