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Wichita City Council approves hotel tax to fund tourism promotion

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, March 18, 2014, at 9:53 a.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, March 18, 2014, at 10:11 a.m.

Guests at Wichita’s largest hotels will pay 2.75 percent more so the city can tell its story.

The Wichita City Council unanimously approved the establishment of a tourism business improvement district Tuesday. The district will levy an additional 2.75 percent tax on guests at Wichita hotels with more than 50 rooms.

The additional tax is expected to raise $2.5 million to $3 million annually for a massive marketing effort to bring visitors to Wichita.

“We are excited to go out and tell Wichita’s story like it’s never been told before,” Go Wichita president Susie Santo told the council.

Michael Frimel, vice president of Jack DeBoer’s Consolidated Holdings, said the Wichita hotel community supports the district.

“The marketing initiatives would drive additional visitors to our city, making this a win-win,” he said.

The council’s vote grows out of frustration with the elaborate marketing efforts of cities that compete with Wichita for convention and event business, several council members said.

The goal is to raise Wichita’s profile in the region through, for example, some of the same ever-present television ads that market the states of Oklahoma, Missouri and surrounding tourist attractions.

Go Wichita is ramping up plans to land national conventions, a growth area in the local tourism business targeted by a recent market study that found visitors inject at least $750 million annually into the local economy. That market study also recommended that the city upgrade its convention space, one of the projects city officials are weighing as part of a possible sales tax vote.

A second visitor satisfaction study, also by Go Wichita, found that about 6 million people annually visit the Wichita Metropolitan Statistical Area, or Sedgwick, Harvey, Butler and Sumner counties. Nearly half – 47.5 percent – come for a leisure day trip that doesn’t involve an overnight stay.

Another large group – 33.5 percent – come to visit friends and family, generally staying in homes. The remaining 19 percent use the city’s hotels. Of those groups, 20 percent of the visitors are here for festivals, events and concerts.

Wichita draws repeat visitor business, Santo said: 81 percent of the city’s visitors have been here at least twice in the last two months; 84 percent of the city’s hotel visitors have been before.

And they liked it here: 95 percent were either very satisfied or satisfied with their experience in Wichita, and 98 percent of them intend to return.

Santo has said that her goal, in the wake of that visitor study, is to get more people here.

“They love it here when we get them here,” she said earlier this winter.

The tourism business improvement district was recommended by a committee established by the council in September.

It’s less clear how the district’s revenue would be apportioned to signature local events. Last week, council member Jeff Longwell signaled that he wants the city to use 10 percent of that revenue – between $250,000 and $300,000 – to market events such as the Wichita River Festival and the National Baseball Congress World Series. The council will hash that out with an advisory committee.

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

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