St. Charles alderman questions tourism bureau funding

  • Rita Payleitner

    Rita Payleitner

 
 

The Greater St. Charles Convention and Visitors Bureau will receive $526,500 in funding from St. Charles this year. But that cash won't come without an attempt to document the return that city businesses get for that investment.

As she did last year, Alderman Rita Payleitner asked for a dollar-for-dollar comparison of city funding versus the tourism money the bureau creates. One number fueling her questions this week is a 3.78 percent reduction in hotel tax receipts. City officials project a loss of $76,000 this year compared to 2016.

"I'm No. 1 charged with thoughtfully spending our taxpayers' money," Payleitner told bureau officials this week. "How did we do with our $500,000 investment? What was our return on that? Is there such a thing?"

Payleitner didn't get the number she sought. The bureau doesn't receive all the tourism income. That money goes to the city's hotels, restaurants and attractions. The bureau's performance report doesn't contain a dollar return. Instead, it tracks tourism activity like hotel room bookings and attendance at conventions.

Those numbers are improving. In 2015-16, the convention lured 1,227 hotel room night bookings and 4,607 people to local events. In the current funding year, which expires June 30, those numbers are already at least 7,608 hotel bookings and 9,803 tourists.

The numbers might be larger if Pheasant Run didn't close down part of its resort. Based on commitments both expected and already secured, bureau officials project 21,920 hotel bookings and 18,930 tourists for 2017-18.

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"I would say that's a bit of a jump," said Lula Cassidy, executive director of the bureau. "We are very proud of that. Those are visitors out and about in the streets, which is what really spreads economic impact."

Payleitner wasn't sold.

"I need to know it's to the tune of a half a million dollars," she said. "Especially in today's world of event planners and the internet. I need to know that this $500,000 is bringing us a return."

Alderman Todd Bancroft said Payleitner might be asking a question that's impossible to answer. At its heart, the bureau is advertising and marketing the city as an attraction.

"It's a classic question," Bancroft said. "How do I know that the ad I ran in the paper brought me business? How do I know the PR firm I hired brought me business? You never know."

Bancroft and most of the aldermen agreed having the bureau and funding it at a proper level sends a message about the city's commitment to tourism. Payleitner was the lone "no" vote in a committee meeting this week. She asked for more detail about the $557,000 worth of administrative costs in the bureau's $1 million-plus budget.

The full city council will vote on the bureau's funding request in July.

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