In response too a letter to the News Herald editor on Sunday January 11th:
For years, the Bay County Tourist Development Council has discussed increasing the bed tax from 3 cents to 5 cents, and finally the motion was made and passed to do so. The timing couldn’t be more perfect. Now more than ever we need to be using every resource possible to increase awareness of our destination. With increased inventory and overall traffic down, now more than ever we need to be sure that vacationers and tourists alike know that our little slice of paradise is here waiting for their arrival. Thus, when the Bay County Commission meets January 20 to give final consideration to the issue, I urge a “YES” vote to increase the bed tax collection from 3 cents to 5 cents.
The idea of raising taxes during a recession is gut-wrenching for some, but for this specifically, there is no reason to puke – we’re only talking about 2 percent! And, we’re not talking about 2% on hundreds of thousands of dollars, the average rate increase a visitor to our area would experience is around $20. $20! Opponents make this increase into a huge number that would serve catastrophic results to our area during an economically failing time. This just isn’t true.
Look, I don’t like taxes being raised as much as the next guy, but we have a growing area and are on the cusp of being nationally and even internationally recognized as a world-class desination and we need to be sure that we are financially prepared to take full advantage of this. Furthermore, our competition has higher overall revenue/visitor AND a higher bed tax, not to mention lifeguards (a whole ‘nother can of worms) putting them at a competitive advantage. I’m not even mentioning the other destinations in other parts of the country that have a higher bed tax affording them great marketing and beautification capability.
The author in the letter states that we should promote that we are the lowest bed tax collector. I can see the ad now: “Extra, Extra, read all about it! Panama City Beach is offering $20 discount for every $1,000 spent – Vacation in Sunny Panama City Beach Florida and save an Andrew Jackson that won’t even take you to the Grande Movie Theatre anymore.” Yea, real clever, that’ll work. (please note the sarcasm)
As a destination we have to look at this as a business decision. This is not emotional. We simply have to analyze the balance of risk versus reward. If the reward is greater than the risk, we need to increase the bed tax – and in this case, the reward far outweighs the risk. We stand to gain many more visitors to our area by increasing the bed tax, ergo increasing our ability to enhance our visibility to the vacation traveler than we stand to lose from an average increase of $20 per 1 week stay. You always have to spend money to make money – anyone that is a business owner knows that. I mean, this is a no-brainer.
Recently it was estimated that the new airport will bring approximately 500,000 new visitors to our area. There are varying factors in making that estimation a reality. One of those factors is ensuring that travelers in the cities that will have direct flights to PCB know about us. Direct flights are great, but you have to MARKET to those visitors or they won’t even know the flights are available. Marketing is expensive – very expensive, and we need to have a dominant presence in our new feeder markets. People don’t realize how much an infusion of 500,000 NEW visitors to our area would change the dynamics of our local economy. Everything here would pick up – restaurants would stay at capacity during peak seasons, there would be long lines at the movie theatre, you would have to search for a parking spot at your resort, etc. And, yes, these are good things as it will mean our area is booming! That’s right, I said it – booming. And that’s just with the airport.
2008 was a pretty good year for events. Panama City Beach has grown tremendously and is truly on the path to becoming a real destination resort town. With Pier Park alone, we have been placed on a map that we’ve never before been on. In addition, with the great events that we had last year and the promise of more to come this year, we will become a stronger destination each year in the future. We need to upgrade our facilities. We can’t keep doing the same thing year after year and expect the same results. There was a quote in Rowland’s first issue of 850, which debuted last fall: “If you are doing the same thing this year you were doing 5 years ago, you’ll be out of business in 2 years.”
The quote said “out of business,” “not your business will be slow,” or “you won’t be doing that good,” but out of business. We cannot go out of business in Panama City Beach. Our whole local economy depends on it. Sure it would be great to have some other industry here that supported us in addition to tourism, but there isn’t, and we need tourists to come to our area. We need them!
I totally agree that a complete and total overhaul needs to be done on the current collection methods. One person managing the collecitons and tracking down those who aren’t paying just isn’t enough. I mean, just look at the IRS? They employ like 700 billion people. We need to have a team working on our local bed tax collection – funding cannot be an issue, it needs to be worked into the current operational budget – this is one area we can’t skimp on. This is just another risk versus reward scenario. The funds that we will be able to collect will more than pay for the increase in operational budget and we will have a more efficient system that is ready to handle future growth.
Furthermore, we need to enforce the tax collection with swift and strict consequences if you do not pay. The criminal justice system uses deterents to persuade criminals to not commit crime – if you steal a car, you go to jail for X years. So, if you don’t pay your bed tax, you are fined $1,000 for the first infraction, $2,500 for the second infraction, and $10,000 for the third infraction. If you don’t pay your fine, a temporary injunction will be placed on your business license and you will not be allowed to operate. If you are not a business, a lien is placed on your property. Sounds severe? You bet, but some people need the threat of consequence in order to obey the rules. Sad isn’t it?
Another part of our area that is lacking and in need of improvement is our beach sporting facilities. We have been counseled by Richard Sanders, our Director of Sports Marketing that as other destinations are spending millions in improving their sporting facilities they are becoming a more attractive tournament location for their events. These events pump millions into our economy every season and if they go away, we will hurt. If you don’t beleive me, just wait and see – this isn’t something we can overlook. Not to mention that we were counseled by an independent third party that an increase in facilities and sports infrastructure was required to remain competitive and that if something wasn’t done immediately, we could be at risk of losing events now.
The author of the letter to the editor mentions that if the need was so great for increased sporting facilities then it would be a money-making opportunity for a private developer, therefore seemingly disqualifying this as a valid need. Now, this is just ignorant and plain untrue. What the author fails to recognize is that the increase sporting facilities will not benefit one entity directly (a developer, etc.), but our destination as a whole, therefore it would NOT be a good money-making opportunity for a developer. In fact, a developer wouldn’t touch this with a 20 foot pole – why would he? Public sporting facilties should not be privatized if they effect a destination as a whole.
Commissioners, I urge you to consider the future of Bay County in your decision tomorrow morning. From one business owner to another, we need to make a good business decision and provide a vehicle to generate more money to grow our area. We have an opportunity to give our area a shot in the arm that almost no other destination has at this time. We can continue to grow, thrive and bring our children into an area that we are all proud of, an area that we grew through our good business decisions, an area that is alive because we chose for it to be, or we can watch it slowly wither away and die. This is a long term decision and we need to think about our future.
At tomorrow’s meeting I urge you to vote yes for the increase in bed tax from 3 cents to 5 cents.