SIOUX CITY -- Local hotels would voluntarily charge guests an extra 1 percent fee on rooms to raise funds for a new regional group charged with promoting tourism, under a proposal pitched Friday to the Sioux City Council.
The council heard plans for the proposed Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB), which would market large entertainment venues in Sioux City and surrounding areas.
Local leaders refocused their tourism efforts after Sioux City eliminated the city department that oversaw not only tourism, but also the Tyson Events Center and the Convention Center. The change occurred after the city hired Spectra, a Philadelphia-based venue management firm, to run the Tyson two years ago.
The city also reorganized the council-appointed citizen board that oversees management of the city-owned venues. Called the Events Facilities and Tourism Advisory Board, the panel met with the council on Friday.
A newly-formed panel, called the Convention & Visitors Bureau Board, will manage the new CVB. The Events Facilities Advisory Board will continue to oversee the city-owned venues.
Councilman Alex Watters, a member of the Events Facilities and Tourism Advisory Board, said talks are underway between the CVB and the Greater Siouxland Hospitality Board, an industry group representing metro area hotels with 40 or more rooms.
Under a proposal, member hotels in Sioux City, South Sioux City, North Sioux City and Dakota Dunes would levy the 1 percent fee to finance the regional CVB. The fee would be in addition to the 7 percent hotel/motel tax collected on all rooms in Sioux City.
Half that 7 percent tax is currently earmarked for tourism purposes, while the other half goes to the city's general fund.
Watters said the regional CVB's stepped-up tourism efforts would increase the number of special events in the region, and, in turn, fill more hotel rooms. The CVB would recommend visitors stay at properties that voluntarily collect the 1 percent fee.
"The articles of incorporation are done and approved, so we actually have that moving forward," Watters said. "The next step that we're working on is getting the language of the contract for the hotels."
Watters said the 1 percent fee would raise an estimated $350,000 per year from the participating hotels. Sioux City, North Sioux City and South Sioux City would also contribute funds to the regional tourism bureau.
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Sioux City Mayor Bob Scott expressed skepticism at the $350,000 estimate, saying that would mean the city's hotels do at least $35 million in business per year.
"That number doesn't make sense to me, unless I'm missing something" Scott said. "Unless the hotels get a lot more money in this town than I think they do."
Watters said the regional CVB could "look back and crunch those numbers." The figure, he said, came from the local hospitality group.
Measuring the return on investment from the regional CVB could be difficult, Watters acknowledged.
"The tangibles are difficult to measure and say, 'Well because of the regional presence, we saw this uptick in our stays," he said.
If hotel guests don't like the 1 percent, they could ask the hotel to remove it from their bill, Watters said.
"You can go to the general manager and say, 'I don't want to pay this,' and then they have the option to take it off, or not," he said.
At Friday's joint meeting, local officials identified 11 members of the new CVB board. They include: Barbara Sloniker, representing the Siouxland Chamber of Commerce; Lila Plambeck, representing the hospitality industry; Tim Savona, representing Spectra; Dave Bernstein, representing Saturday in the Park; Corey Westra, representing the sports commission; Rick Lecy, representing Kinseth Hospitality; Anne Lee, representing the hospitality industry; Mark Baltushis, representing the hospitality industry; Andrew Nilges, representing North Sioux City; Jim Steele, representing South Sioux City; and Alex Watters, representing Sioux City.
Bruce Miller, a member of the Events Facilities and Tourism Advisory Board and editor of The Journal, expressed concern the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City does not have a representative on the board while the hospitality industry has three members.
"This is my own opinion: Hard Rock needs to be a member of that committee, because they're a huge driver of activity in our community, and to not have them sitting at that table I think is wrong," Miller said.
Plambeck, vice president of the Greater Siouxland Hospitality Board, said the group is hopeful that hotel owners will be supportive of their efforts and -- most importantly -- agree to collect the new 1 percent fee.
"We want to make sure we have the owners' buy-in for this contract," she said.