Eagle editorial: Hotel tax aids marketing

Wichita needs to draw more attention to itself.
Wichita needs to draw more attention to itself.

Wichita doesn’t do nearly enough to promote itself to potential tourists and conventions in the region or beyond. The Wichita City Council can take a sizable step toward fixing that by approving the proposed tourism business improvement district and 2.75 percent hotel “fee” – though it also should expect citizens to recognize a new tax when they see one.

Hotels with 50 or more rooms would be affected by the TBID proposal, which is on Tuesday’s City Council agenda. The 2.75 percent fee would be passed along by the hotels to their guests in the room charge, on top of the city’s 6 percent transient guest tax and the local sales-tax rate of 7.15 percent. Plus, sales tax can be 2 percent higher in the hotels that fall within community improvement districts.

If a hotel tax as high as 17.9 percent sounds like piling on some of Wichita’s visitors, it is – though, as TBID proponents argue, even those rates still fall short of many other cities’ steep guest taxes and surcharges.

The $3 million generated annually would go toward efforts by the Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau to better market the city, with a goal of increasing room nights in local hotels by 6 percent from current occupancy of about 60 percent.

It’s significant that, as reflected at last week’s City Council meeting, the creation of the district has strong support from hoteliers and local business leaders. The hotels apparently think the marketing challenge justifies higher hotel bills, as do the local businesses sure to pick up some of those bills for their visiting customers and clients.

“We do need to get the message out about Wichita. We do need to market the city,” said Matt Dolan of TMH Hotels, who added that hotel rates would remain competitive even with the new fee.

“We ask you to favorably support the TBID ordinance so that we can tell the Wichita story in a way that is meaningful and powerful to promote our own community,” Wayne Chambers, chairman of the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce, told the council.

It’s a concern that the TBID would turn $3 million in new revenue over to Go Wichita, one of the three local tax-funded economic development groups treated as exempt from the state’s open-records law. Though a TBID board will oversee how those public dollars are spent, the process won’t be as open to public scrutiny as it should be.

And calling the 2.75 percent charge a “fee” won’t change the fact that if the City Council votes for the TBID on Tuesday, it will be approving a tax increase.

But the bottom line is that Wichita needs to draw more attention to itself – as not just home to a basketball team on a historic winning streak but as an excellent place to visit and hold conventions. The council should approve the TBID and let Go Wichita go for it.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman