Idea for countywide hotel tax to boost DuPage tourism sparks controversy
DuPage tourism officials say the landscape has changed and a new approach is needed to fill the county's nearly 16,000 hotel rooms.
But one proposal already is sparking controversy because it calls for creation of a countywide hotel occupancy tax.
DuPage County Convention & Visitors Bureau officials say the tax -- paid by hotel visitors -- would generate revenue that would be reinvested in tourism "and ultimately drive more visitors, more meetings, more events."
For the hotel tax to become a reality, state law would need to be changed and the county board would need to adopt a resolution. So far, no legislation has been drafted. But that hasn't stopped the village of Oak Brook from strongly opposing the idea.
"While the village is a member of the DuPage Convention & Visitor Bureau and we continue to support their efforts to bring meetings, sporting events and visitors to our hotels in an effort to increase our economic landscape," the village said in a statement, "we do not believe a mandatory DuPage County-wide tax increase would benefit our hotels."
Because towns already impose their own hotel-motel taxes to raise money to promote tourism, a countywide tax would be redundant, Oak Brook officials say.
They say the list of organizations opposing the idea includes the Greater Oak Brook Chamber of Commerce, the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce, Chamber630 and the Naperville Convention & Visitors Bureau.
In response, DuPage tourism officials say they will work to convince hotels, municipalities and chambers about the need for a countywide tax.
"I think it's an educational opportunity for all of us to get behind making DuPage healthy for the future," said Beth Marchetti, executive director of the county bureau. "And I think we'll get there. It will be an education process."
Part of that process will be demonstrating how much the tourism landscape has changed.
For decades, DuPage's more than 100 hotels relied on Chicago to perform well. But in recent years, the number of hotel rooms in Chicago has increased dramatically.
The days of big conventions in downtown Chicago filling hotel rooms in DuPage are over, Marchetti said.
There also are fewer business travelers using DuPage hotels because major corporations have moved their headquarters out of the county, according to Mike Feigenbaum, general manager of the Westin Lombard Yorktown Center.
"That means you have to fill it up with other business," Feigenbaum said.
A group called the DuPage Coalition for Tourism says the occupancy needs of the county's hotels go beyond the overnight stays generated by local businesses.
"DuPage hotels need help to drive new demand, and they rely on the meetings and events secured in partnership with the DuPage CVB," the coalition said in a statement. "Additional visitation generates important revenue needed by our communities."
Scott Niehaus, who serves on the DuPage Convention & Visitors Bureau board, said a countywide hotel tax would create a funding source for DuPage to become competitive with the Chicago market and the rest of the Midwest.
Now, the county tourism bureau operates with a $2 million annual budget. Niehaus said a 1 percent tax would generate $3 million to $3.5 million a year.
Marchetti said the money would be used in several ways.
First, it would fund a sports commission that's being formed to recruit, retain and facilitate sporting events. The bureau also would step up efforts to attract meetings and conventions. Finally, the money would be used to promote DuPage.
"We would be trying to figure out how to fill our hotels," said Marchetti, adding that DuPage tourism officials would visit cities around the country to find new business.
But Oak Brook Village President Gopal Lalmalani said his town already has a local 3 percent tax on stays at its seven hotels. He said he will "work to maintain our low sales tax and low hotel tax."
"I believe adding any new taxes would have a negative impact in not only drawing businesses but also visitors to Oak Brook," Lalmalani said.