Tourism Tax to Help Hotels?

Santa Barbara Conference and Visitors Bureau Wants New Fee to Bolster Marketing

If all goes as the tourism troopers desire, there’ll be a new $2 per-occupied-bed tax for southern Santa Barbara County hotels come January 2010, and the resulting cash - which will amount to more than $2 million per year - will be used explicitly on marketing to ensure that those beds stay filled. That’s the promise of a tourism business improvement district - or TBID, pronounced simply as “tee-bid” - that’s being proposed by the Santa Barbara Conference and Visitors Bureau, which hopes to supplement its budget in order to effectively compete with the growing number of destinations both in and out of California already benefiting from TBIDs.

We’re going to quickly find ourselves in a competitive disadvantage and with the possibility of losing market share,” warned Tom Patton, general manager of the Ramada Limited near Turnpike Avenue. As chair of the CVB’s TBID task force, Patton began investigating the option one year ago, when there were 26 TBIDs in California. “There are 38 now, with another 20 in the pipeline,” said Patton, noting that communities such as Temecula, Paso Robles, Pismo Beach, and the entire Monterey County are already riding the TBID train. Some communities have begun the program because public funding for their tourism agencies was entirely slashed while others - including Santa Barbara, where both the county and city currently fund the CVB - are looking to increase their budget and buffer against any recession-related cuts. But no matter the reason, the impacts are already evident. “You find yourself competing against destinations you didn’t compete against before,” said Patton.

To combat the other TBIDs, the CVB is aiming to put all hotels south of the Santa Ynez Mountains-including the cities of Santa Barbara, Goleta, and Carpinteria as well as the unincorporated parts of Santa Barbara County-into the new TBID. That requires more than 50 percent of hotel owners to sign a petition, and signatures are proportionally weighted depending on the signers annual beds filled. Patton hopes that task to be finished by mid-September, and then the petition will be presented to the City of Santa Barbara. After public hearings, City Hall would theoretically approve the resolution, and then the County of Santa Barbara and cities of Goleta and Carpinteria would follow suit.

Of course, as with any new fee, there’s opposition to the plan from hoteliers that are either against any new tax, believe that Santa Barbara doesn’t need the help, fear that more money for a room will turn guests away, or think that the TBID will result in the city and county pulling out their annual support for the tourism industry. “It’s the overwhelming opinion of owners and managers that this is not the time for a self-imposed, additional tax under the banner of a TBID,” said Tony Romasanta, owner of the Harbor View Inn, who’s critical of the city’s lack of effort in cleaning up beaches and the waterfront area. “There’s no sense in spending money to invite people to your home when the front porch is filthy, dirty, and uninviting.”

Whether or not Romasanta’s opposition proves strong enough to derail Santa Barbara’s TBID train will be determine over the next couple weeks of signature gathering.

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