Travel Matters. That is the motto of this week's National Travel and Tourism Week, a week Vermonters should use to celebrate the industry that is absolutely critical to our success as a state — economically and otherwise. From the millions of dollars in tax revenue the industry generates ($391 million in FY 2018) to the thousands of Vermonters whose jobs and salaries are supported by tourism (32,000 jobs in FY 2018), the economic impact of the industry is over $2.8 billion.
Unfortunately, far too often, leaders in Montpelier simply don't recognize this importance.
In fact, while the limited dollars provided for statewide tourism marketing have been invested wisely and have succeeded in maintaining and increasing the value of our brand, we have had to fight repeatedly against efforts to curtail funding for tourism marketing, in addition to fighting against policy initiatives that would be incredibly detrimental to the industry (i.e.: $2 occupancy fee, outdoor recreation waiver/consent law change, just in the last year alone).
To be clear, in the tourism industry, we are competing in an ever-increasingly global market. In order to grow and increase our market share of those global tourism dollars, we cannot lose sight of staying economically competitive.
Toward that end, a number of legislators, from across the state and across the political spectrum, have introduced a piece of legislation that is designed to bring greater attention to, and investment in, our state's tourism industry.
House Bill 298 would provide for a dedicated fund for tourism marketing. Following in the footsteps of the State of Maine, this bill would take a percentage of the revenues generated from tourism (2 percent of the revenues generated from the rooms and meals tax), and direct that percentage into promoting and marketing Vermont as a tourist destination.
While there are many who argue that investments in tourism marketing are wasted investments, I submit that the real impact is exactly the opposite.
In fact, the first year that Maine instituted a dedicated fund paid for by 5 percent of the revenues generated by the lodging and meals tax to promote its tourism, the state saw a $20 million (15 percent) increase in gross receipts from the lodging and meals tax. And in fiscal 2019, the gross receipts from the lodging and meals tax was $208 million (155 percent) more than they were when the dedicated fund was instituted in 2004. While the overall tax rate in Maine increased from 7 percent to 9 percent in later years, thereby impacting the revenues further in recent years, the impact of the dedicated fund for tourism marketing is clear. Investment in tourism pays back in spades.
The time for this important change to tourism funding is now. And, I am pleased that a number of legislators and stakeholders have begun the process of passing, during next year's legislative session, legislation that would create a designated fund to market and promote Vermont as a tourist destination.
In the final analysis, Vermont must follow the lead of the State of Maine and other states. We can no longer sit idly by and watch as our competitors spend millions more than us to promote tourism in their states. After all, we are competing in an ever-increasingly global market. In order to grow and increase our market share of those global tourism dollars, we cannot lose sight of staying economically competitive.
Heidi E. Scheuermann represents the Lamoille-1 district in the Vermont House, and lives in Stowe.