Wichita City Council expected to OK tourism fee

A tourism business improvement district that is expected to generate $2.5 million to $3 million annually to market Wichita events is set for a City Council vote on Tuesday.

Council members are expected to approve the ordinance establishing the district, a tax hike on all city hotel bills. It would be the final step toward launching a massive marketing effort to bring visitors to Wichita. The council voted last week to proceed to the ordinance vote after a public hearing.

The district will levy an additional 2.75 percent tax on hotel bills at Wichita hotels with more than 50 rooms.

Council member Jeff Blubaugh, who served on the TBID planning committee, said the support of Wichita hoteliers won his vote.

“One of the big things I look at is it’s the hotels collecting for the city, and we’ll all benefit from these people eating out, filling their tanks up with gas and going to see a movie,” Blubaugh said. “I think the spend goes a lot further than the hotel space.”

Opponents have countered that Wichita businesses who bring clients, vendors and potential employees to town will suffer under the weight of the additional tax.

“It’s going to enhance economic development here, not hurt Wichita businesses,” council member Lavonta Williams said. “I’m looking at this as a real positive for Wichita.”

The district approval coincides with council approval in January of a 20-year extension of the city’s 6 percent transient guest tax. That revenue funds long-term improvements to Century II as well as the city’s base tourism efforts at Go Wichita.

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

It’s less clear how the TBID 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 some of the city’s signature events such as Riverfest and the National Baseball Congress World Series.

Blubaugh said he supports that idea, depending on whether the event produces significant overnight stays in Wichita.

“Does the Riverfest warrant an overnight stay?” Blubaugh asked. “Do youth athletic events warrant an overnight stay? The NBC tournament definitely does.

“Whenever you’re looking from there, I think that if you’re capturing something benefiting the overall number of hotel nights in Wichita, then it becomes a beneficial idea.”

Williams agreed.

“I think this is the way the new advisory committee should look at it: How many nights in hotels can we generate with these events, and does that event warrant an additional marketing tool,” she said.

The ordinance, which will run into 2023, also establishes a seven- to nine-member TBID advisory board, which will review and approve Go Wichita’s marketing plan every year.

“When you go to Washington, D.C., or when you turn on your own television, the commercials for cities, the commercials for states are everywhere,” Williams said. “Right now, Gregg Marshall’s guys and our ladies at Wichita State are our biggest economic development tools. I’m excited to get what these people can do out there to market our city further.”