Attract more tourists, conventions

Wichita is getting serious about attracting more tourists, starting with ensuring that Go Wichita has more money for marketing.
Wichita is getting serious about attracting more tourists, starting with ensuring that Go Wichita has more money for marketing.

Wichita knows how to show tourists and conventioneers a good time once they get here. Now it’s finally getting serious about attracting them, starting with ensuring that Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau has more money for marketing.

Go Wichita’s nearly $2.4 million budget for 2015 was approved Tuesday by the Wichita City Council, to be funded by the city’s 6 percent transient guest tax. But the bureau’s budget is expected to be nearly doubled next year with the proceeds of a 2.75 percent fee per night at hotels with more than 50 rooms – a windfall resulting from the city’s new tourism business improvement district designation.

Council action this week on Go Wichita’s budget also was accompanied by a welcome new promise of transparency about how the tourism agency spends tax dollars. City leaders and Go Wichita plan to work early next year on guidelines for disclosure that might – and should – also apply to Wichita Downtown Development Corp. and the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition.

The proposed guidelines seem likely to fall short of full transparency, which would mean acknowledging that such private entities mostly funded by tax dollars are subject to state open-records and open-meetings laws. But it’s a sharp, smart change for the city, which has lobbied in Topeka to safeguard such groups’ secrecy.

Of course, the larger the public investment in the tourism bureau and its ambitious goals, the greater the expectations that it will deliver even more than the $1 billion in visitors’ spending Wichita enjoyed in 2013, which was a 3.75 percent increase over 2012.

According to Susie Santo, Go Wichita’s president and CEO, plans include an 11-week summer campaign of TV, radio, print and digital advertising.

One thing the new tourism business improvement district designation and resulting revenue won’t do is solve Wichita’s facilities problem. A 2013 study highlighted the insufficient space available to conventions at the “dated, substandard” Century II, suggesting the city could more than double its convention business to almost $50 million in revenue annually with a state-of-the-art convention center. With such a building project left off the City Council’s to-do list for a citywide sales tax – which failed at the ballot box last month anyway – what to do about Century II now becomes a question for the next mayor and council.

But especially considering the tourism bureau’s key role in Intrust Bank Arena’s selection for two rounds of the 2018 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, it will be exciting to see what Go Wichita can do with a lot more resources.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman