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City Council votes to proceed with hotel tax to fund Wichita tourism promotion

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, March 11, 2014, at 11:20 a.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, March 18, 2014, at 10:11 a.m.

A tourism business improvement district that would raise between $2.5 million and $3 million to tell Wichita’s story took another step forward Tuesday.

The Wichita City Council voted to proceed with a 2.75 percent additional tax on hotel bills, to market Wichita to tourists. The district will return before the council in ordinance form next week.

Go Wichita president Susie Santo said the mechanics of the marketing effort are still being developed. An advisory board will make recommendations to the council on how the money should be spent.

“We’re all tired of seeing other cities’ commercials on television, right?” Santo said.

“When visitors come here, they have a great time. We just have to get that word out on what we have to offer.”

Matt Dolan, who represents the Hilton Garden Inn and the Hampton Inn and Suites in Wichita, supported the district.

“Obviously pleased they approved it,” he said. “It’s a win-win for Wichita and the tourism industry, and obviously for travelers to Wichita.”

The idea was endorsed by several Wichita organizations, including the Wichita Chamber of Commerce and the Wichita Downtown Development Corp.

“We need to tell Wichita's story in a powerful and meaningful way. We need to compete for the attraction of visitors,” said Wayne Chambers, the chamber chairman.

“One of the things we've learned downtown is you always have to be able to tell the story of what's happening,” WDDC president Jeff Fluhr said.

The district was opposed by representatives of the local anti-tax group Americans for Prosperity, who called it a tax increase on local businesses who bring visitors to Wichita.

Susan Estes said the council is putting a tax increase on “local businesses and local Wichitans.”

Council member Jeff Longwell pointed out that several Wichita businesses were consulted in deliberations on the tax.

“It’s also fair to say we have businesses which will pick up the increase,” Longwell said. “My guess is they've had those conversations (at the chamber).”

Dolan dismissed the AFP allegation that Wichita businesses will suffer under the tax.

“Wichita, as we talked in the meeting, is competitive with price,” he said. “While there are corporations who do bring people to Wichita, it’s an advantage to corporate travelers to have an education about Wichita.”

Longwell set the stage for future debate between the council and tourism board, saying he wants to dedicate 10 percent of the tourism revenues to market established city events, such as the Wichita River Festival and the National Baseball Congress World Series.

The annual summer baseball tournament can gain national television exposure this year, Longwell said, if the city is willing to buy air and production time at a cost of up to $50,000. Then, if the tournament proves viable on television, networks would pick up the cost.

“We can help them even more if we will purchase the air time and production time they need to market that tournament," he said.

Four members of the council – Mayor Carl Brewer, Lavonta Williams, James Clendenin and Jeff Blubaugh – participated in Tuesday’s meeting via conference call. They are in Washington, D.C., attending National League of Cities meetings.

Reach Bill Wilson at 316-268-6290 or bwilson@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @bwilsoneagle.

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