Legislators and stakeholders think Vermont’s tourism industry needs more funding to be at the top of its game, so it was all hands on deck at the Vermont Statehouse’s first Tourism Day, Wednesday, April 3, intended to garner support for a bill that would boost Vermont’s tourism budget.
Heidi Scheuermann, Stowe’s representative in the Vermont Legislature, helped put the day together.
It included presentations from leaders in the tourism industry, a snowboarding display from Ski Vermont and fat biking.
Scheuermann’s hope was that Tourism Day would encourage legislators to support the creation of a dedicated fund to boost the amount spent on tourism efforts in the state.
H.298, a House bill that she’s sponsoring, would create that fund.
Right now, the state’s tourism budget is about $3 million.
Wendy Knight, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Tourism & Marketing, said at the end of the last fiscal year, meals and rooms tax revenue totaled $172 million.
Scheuermann’s proposal would earmark 2 percent of the state’s 9 percent meals and rooms tax and funnel another $3 million into the tourism budget.
Scheuermann said the state of Maine put such a fund into place in 2004 and its tourism budget is now $17.1 million.
“Those are compelling, compelling numbers. You’re talking about significant increases from state revenues. A percentage of that would go to tourism marketing to increase those revenues. It’s just a huge benefit to the state as a whole,” Scheuermann said.
“There’s a lot of skepticism in Montpelier with regard to investing in tourism marketing. We have a lot of work to do. Our goal is to pass a bill next year that will put into place this dedicated fund,” she said.
Amy Spear, executive director of Stowe Area Association, testified before the House Commerce Committee and extolled the need for more tourism funding in Vermont.
“The state’s funding has been stagnant for years. Level funding equals a decrease every year as the cost of doing business increases. Investing in tourism marketing yields positive results, and is not only critical to growth, but also to maintain our market share. While Stowe’s destination marketing amplifies the state’s investment, we are losing our competitive edge as a state in a global market when neighboring states in our region dwarf our investment,” Spear said.
Spear said Stowe experienced a three-year growth of 22 percent in meals and rooms tax receipts, as opposed to the 3 percent experienced by the rest of the state.
During the same time period, Stowe Area Association increased marketing efforts by 31 percent, she said.
Tourism Day, which Scheuermann said was a success, was “really just a launch of an effort to ensure that tourism is at the front and center of legislators’ minds when they’re in Montpelier. Too often, it seems to be on the back burner, and our challenges with investment in tourism marketing, marketing Vermont as a tourist destination, continues, and so we’re trying to make sure people understand the impact of tourism,” she said.
Winter business in Stowe
Stowe’s winter business made for a banner season this year, according to local business owners.
“This was one of the best winters on record,” said Patti Clark, innkeeper at the Green Mountain Inn.
Clark said January made for an average of 60 percent occupancy, and February was even better at 75 percent. Clark didn’t have the numbers for March.
“It was a great season overall,” said Mike Seaberg, who owns Northern Lights Lodge on Mountain Road.
Both Clark and Seaberg think the Epic Pass has a lot to do with it.
“The Epic Pass has definitely changed the dynamic people are seeing up here. We’re seeing a lot more people who come multiple times throughout the season than we used to. Previously, we’d have guests who would come once a year” as regulars, but now, Seaberg said first-time guests come “four times a year, because they have an Epic Pass, which has been great.”
Clark says the Green Mountain Inn has been encouraging people to book further ahead of time by actively reaching out to guests, and it’s been working.
Seaberg says Northern Lights Lodge has been home away from home to fewer groups and bus tours, but more ski couples and active military members.
He’s also seeing “less of the families that are not season pass-holders, people who might have taken their families skiing once for the year for four or five days. The increase in the day ticket prices maybe scared some of those folks away,” he said.
So far, this fiscal year, $511,178 in local option taxes has been remitted to the town of Stowe, according to Cindy Fuller, Stowe’s finance director.
Local option tax revenue comes from the 1 percent additional tax on meals and rooms in Stowe. The state tax department keeps 30 percent of the money; the town gets the rest. It’s used for one-time projects that cost more than $10,000.
Last year’s earnings by this time were a little higher at about $525,500.