The Gadfly is a series of letters offering commentary on local issues and published in the Warrensburg Gazette.
I've written about tourism many times in the past, but I recently got a fresh perspective on how a nearby city administers and uses its room tax. It makes an interesting contrast. Sedalia charges a $2 per night, which brings in an average of about $160,000 per year. Warrensburg has a 2.5% tax projected to collect about $100,000 this year. Warrensburg gets less revenue for rooms under $80 per night and more for those over $80. Obviously, Sedalia has both more rooms and more room-nights than Warrensburg.
There's also a significant difference in governance. In Sedalia, room tax revenues are controlled by the Sedalia Area Tourism Commission, whose only staff is an administrative assistant. Room tax expenditures here are controlled by the Greater Warrensburg Area Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center (GWACC&VC), subject to the advice of an Advisory Board (two of whose five members are directly named by the GWACC&VC).
The biggest difference is in how the money is spent. In Sedalia, organizations who have a tourism-related project apply for a grant from their Tourism Commission. A critical criterion seems to be the ability of the project to draw overnight visitors. This includes spending money on attraction development rather than just advertising; a group building a tournament grade baseball facility well outside the city was awarded $50,000. Meanwhile, requests to support a one-day art show were denied. Other groups getting money for advertising included the Scott Joplin Festival, the Daum Museum and the State Fairgrounds. Money was also given to the Sedalia Chamber for magazine advertising and bus tour promotion. They're even spending over $14,000 to maintain road signs telling people how to find downtown and local attractions.
In Warrensburg, the bulk of the money appears to have been spent on staff. Nothing is spent to assist other organizations through advertising or attraction development. Oh, they may submit a tourism cooperative marketing grant request, assuming the other organization comes up with the cost-sharing funds, but that's about it. No help has been given for the Blind Boone Music Festival, Warrensburg Main Streets's now-defunct arts festival, County Fairgrounds activities, etc. There's not even any criteria for groups to ask for tourism money.
Isn't it about time for the City Council to take a second look at the way the tourism room tax is set up and make sure something is done that will help fill the rooms of the motels that create the funds? Take a look at what some of the other cities, those with successful tourism programs, are doing and learn from them. Let's get some dynamism into Warrensburg tourism.
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