Tourism grapples with funding loss

Written by Bill Rautenstrauch, The Observer June 02, 2010 12:27 pm
With finalization of the City of La Grande’s 2010-2011 budget coming up June 9, Union County Tourism is hoping the city council will have a change of heart about tourism promotion funding. During contentious deliberations in May, the city budget committee eliminated $95,000 in funding for Union County Tourism and the Blue Mountain Conference Center. The UCT executive board believes that’s a bad move, and is looking to get at least some of the funding restored.

“I feel abandoning the program would be a mistake,” Sandy Sorrels, a UCT board member who served on the city’s budget committee, said during an executive board meeting May 21. “I think we should get at least some money from the city.”

Union County Tourism, the non-profit organization that promotes and supports the local tourism industry, has lived mainly on allotments from the city and Union County. The agency was counting on $70,000 in funding from the city this year.

During the UCT board meeting, Executive Director Janet Dodson presented, at the board’s request, budget projections that included best and worst-case scenarios, and a couple in-between.

 With full city funding this year — and assuming the county funds the program — UCT would have $130,000 to spend on its basic tourism program; at 75 percent of city funding it would have $113,000, and at 50 percent the amount would be $95,400.

With the city funding cut to zero, total on hand would be $59,600. That’s not nearly enough to make an effective tourism program, Dodson said.

“There’s a huge volume of work involved, and in my mind it has to be done if there’s going to be a tourism industry,” she said.

With no city funding, Dodson and her full time assistant director would be reduced to working part time.

Programs across the board, including marketing and advertising, publications, advocacy and networking, and attraction development and enhancement would be drastically cut.

The focus of the overall program would change, with staff working more on Internet promotion and less on print advertising.

Ads and brochures are key to the tourism promotion effort, Dodson said.

“People do use the Web more and more, but they like to have those materials on their laps when they’re driving,” she said.

If the city funding doesn’t come through, the UCT program will not be reaching out as far to touch people.

“I’ve drastically cut ad buys in every scenario, leaving only regional visitor’s guides in the zero percent budget,” Dodson said.

Advocacy and networking is another key function that will be cut back, Dodson said. She said she is reluctant to cut relations with industry groups and the state’s Travel Oregon program, even if it does mean savings in membership fees and travel.

“I can’t even begin to tell you how my persistent presence, lobbying and networking has paid off for us over the years,” she said.

Sorrells, a long-time local businesswoman and owner of 10 Depot, lobbied hard to save tourism funding during the city budget talks.

She wanted the committee to preserve the funding by reviewing the budget and making small cuts “here and there” in city departments. In the end, the committee rejected that idea.

During the UCT board meeting, Sorrells said she still thinks it was the right thing to do. She said the council should consider the needs of the local business community.

“The problem with the council is that only one of them — Kelly McGee — is in business,” she said. McGee, owner of the Marie Josephine mercantile on Adams Avenue, spoke in support of tourism funding during the deliberations.

Sorrells said that as a restaurant owner, she well understands the importance of tourism promotion. Her business depends on it, she said.

“If it wasn’t for the tourists coming through, we wouldn’t be here,” she said.

Judy Jensen, who with her husband Bob owns the Potter’s House, also said her business depends heavily on trade with out-of-towners.

“I fear for my business,” she said. “That tourism dollar can mean 50-60 percent of what you’re bringing in.”

During the June 9 city council meeting, the UCT board will make one last pitch for the funding. In the meantime, board members are out marshalling support.

Sorrells said she believes that support is there.

“The business community is behind us,” she said.

This week, Union County will consider its own budget for 2010-11. UCT has submitted a funding request as it does each year.

If the county decided not honor the request, UCT likely will no longer be.

Dodson said she hopes that doesn’t happen.

“If you scrap everything we’ve done and start from scratch, it can’t possibly be as effective as utilizing all the knowledge we’ve gained over the years,” she said.

With the city funding cut to zero, total on hand would be $59,600. That’s not nearly enough to make an effective tourism program, Dodson said.

“There’s a huge volume of work involved, and in my mind it has to be done if there’s going to be a tourism industry,” she said.

With no city funding, Dodson and her full-time assistant director would be reduced to working part time.

Programs across the board, including marketing and advertising, publications, advocacy and networking, and attraction development and enhancement would be drastically cut.

The focus of the overall program would change, with staff working more on Internet promotion and less on print advertising.

Ads and brochures are key to the tourism promotion effort, Dodson said.

“People do use the web more and more, but they like to have those materials on their laps when they’re driving,” she said.

If the city funding doesn’t come through, the UCT program will not be reaching out as far to touch people.

“I’ve drastically cut ad buys in every scenario, leaving only regional visitors guides in the zero percent budget,” Dodson said.

Advocacy and networking is another key function that will be cut back, Dodson said. She said she is reluctant to cut relations with industry groups and the state’s Travel Oregon program, even if it does mean savings in membership fees and travel.

“I can’t even begin to tell you how my persistent presence, lobbying and networking has paid off for us over the years,” she said.

Sorrels, a long-time local businesswoman and owner of Ten Depot, lobbied hard to save tourism funding during the city budget talks.

She wanted the committee to preserve the funding by reviewing the budget and making small cuts “here and there” in city departments. In the end, the committee rejected that idea.

During the UCT board meeting, Sorrels said she still thinks it was the right thing to do. She said the council should consider the needs of the local business community.

“The problem with the council is that only one of them — Kelly McGee — is in business,” she said.

McGee, owner of the Marie Josephine mercantile on Adams Avenue, spoke in support of tourism funding during the deliberations.

Sorrels said that as a restaurant owner, she well understands the importance of tourism promotion. Her business depends on it, she said.

“If it wasn’t for the tourists coming through, we wouldn’t be here,” she said.

Judy Jensen, who with her husband, Bob, owns the Potter’s House, also said her business depends heavily on trade with out-of-towners.

“I fear for my business,” she said. “That tourism dollar can mean 50 to 60 percent of what you’re bringing in.”

During the June 9 city council meeting, the UCT board will make one last pitch for the funding. In the meantime, board members are out marshaling support.

Sorrels said she believes that support is there.

“The business community is behind us,” she said.

This week, Union County will consider its own budget for 2010-11. UCT has submitted a funding request as it does each year.

If the county decided not to honor the request, UCT likely will no longer be.

Dodson said she hopes that doesn’t happen.

“If you scrap everything we’ve done and start from scratch, it can’t possibly be as effective as utilizing all the knowledge we’ve gained over the years,” she said.