Business Politics

Chamber speaks out against lodging industry plan

September 20, 2013

The rush for approval of the structure, budget and transition plan for Visit Pensacola, the new entity created by the lodging industry, to assume control of $5.5 million of tourism development tax dollars has hit another obstacle.

The Greater Pensacola Chamber has sent a letter to Interim County Administrator George Touart making it clear that its board has not approved the proposal presented by hotel lobbyist Ron Ellington to the Escambia Board of County Commissioners on Monday.

In the letter signed by Chairman-elect Gary Huston and Chamber President Jerry Maygarden, the chamber leaders stated, “The plan under review is not the Chamber’s proposal. We do not oppose the Commission’s desire to transfer responsibility for tourism administration to a stand-alone public-private body dedicated solely for that purpose. We have not, however, agreed to support the terms of the proposal under consideration by your Board.”

Moreover, they wrote that the chamber has not been asked to provide input to the proposed management model or governance structure.

“We are not close to resolving issues related to the distribution of assets and the transfer of duties,” they stated. “We must restate our primary concern: There is not enough time available between now and October 1 to enact an orderly transition.”

They described the rush as “reckless.”

Huston and Maygarden specifically criticized the business plan for not offering a “path to improvement” and only being a “replica of the Chamber’s current activities.” They also questioned the make up of the Visit Pensacola board for not reflecting “all elements of the industry or the community.”

They stated, “There is no reason why a plan couldn’t be prepared that includes representation by area attractions, tourism tax collectors, as well as the minority community.”

The chamber is recommending to the BCC that it grant up to 90-days for the transition. They are requesting the commissioners appoint a task force to resolve all the transition issues and draft a governance plan for approval by Jan. 1, 2014.

That task force will operate in the Sunshine.

Read touart tourism transition 9-18-2013

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  • Slack Jawed Bystander September 25, 2013 at 8:50 am

    “We do not oppose the Commission’s desire to transfer responsibility for tourism administration to a stand-alone public-private body dedicated solely for that purpose.”

    The existing Tourist Development Council is a stand alone body dedicated solely for that purpose. By the State Legislature.

    It also falls under Sunshine Law – maybe that’s the problem.

    Sooo much harder for Downtown nonproducing barnacles to launder the cash when you have to account for it.

    And we know Outzen always opposes accountability when it comes to his Downtown Masters. Sit boy! Gooooood doggie!

  • slow motion September 20, 2013 at 1:36 pm

  • Nora September 20, 2013 at 10:53 am

    Was wondering why no one was speaking up about this. It does sound reckless and shady. Thanks Rick for keeping us informed.

  • John September 20, 2013 at 10:51 am

    Great letter and directly on point!

  • CJ Lewis September 20, 2013 at 10:36 am

    Yes, “reckless” is a good way to describe the ongoing backroom schemes to jam this dramatic change through at the last minute with little to no consideration given to the long-term consequences of upending the tourist development process. New is not always better.

    A better use of the next three months through January 1, 2014 would be for everyone to step back from the brink, forget about the “Amy” video for a moment, and try to identify exactly what is broken that needs to be fixed, if much of anything. For the most part, the Chamber is probably doing a pretty good job unless all the tourists I see just stumbled here by sheer accident.

    So far, the only rationale I have heard for punishing the Chamber is that the hotel/condo owners want to be in charge so they can put more heads in “their” beds, i.e. make more profit. Whether the primary purpose of public money collected from visitors is to generate more private profit for them is a very suspect proposition.

    Tourists can stay anywhere from Gulf Shores to Panama City Beach if they just want to vegetate on the sand, and there are plenty of hotels inside city limits for those in town for family weddings or funerals or business or tourists not willing to fork out big bucks for fancy beach front accommodations. We would get more return on investment if more of the money is used to promote events that would give people a reason to stay here vice in Gulf Shores or Destin, especially in the shoulder and off seasons.

    Someone should ask visitors already here – requiring someone to speak to them – to find out what more we could do to get them to come back and bring their friends and more of their family. How about an ECAT bus that runs every day several times a day between Pensacola Beach and the National Museum of Naval Aviation with a stop at Main & Palafox or wherever we plan to park the USS Kitty Hawk if/when we get it? Can bed tax money be used for mass transit initiatives? If so, might be a smart idea to make it easier for tourists to get around.

    Moreover, retail is a big part of the local economy. There are a lot of stores here not present in the hometowns of many tourists. It’ll be even better if we someday get a Williams-Sonoma, a Pottery Barn and other upscale stores. Is there anything we can do to make it easier for tourists to shop and even find some of our great local restaurants not necessarily hidden in a hotel? Should we spent more time advertising to potential tourists the abundance of shops and restaurants?

    The metric for success should be a net increase in the economic impact of tourism on the local economy. Whether the most important key to that success is to put more “heads in beds” seems questionable. Another approach might be to find ways to ensure that tourists are better informed on the many, many ways they can leave their money behind with us to include at Palafox Market, local arts & culture events or just taking a stroll through Fresh Market to haul back home some specialty items not sold in their hometown Piggly Wiggly.

    A bad decision made quickly is still a bad decision.

  • paralysis by analysis September 20, 2013 at 8:56 am

    the Chamber just can’t seem to get out of it’s own way