On Tuesday, voters wisely approved two tax-the-tourists measures that will, in theory, bring even more tourist dollars to the region. Measure 9-94 will ratchet up the transient room tax (TRT) in the City of Bend from 9 to 10.4 percent; and, in the process (and based on current residence rates), pull in roughly $450,000 in additional funding to market "the arts" outside the region and another $150,000 for police and fire services in Bend. Likewise, Measure 9-96 jacks up the TRT throughout the rest of Deschutes County from 7 to 8 percent, giving those extra funds—estimated at $500,000—to emergency services and the Deschutes County Fair and Expo Center to market itself and try to pull in more shows and events and, again, in the process, bolster the economy around here based on tourism.
Both of the TRT increases are wise taxations because they solicit funding from "users"—tourists visiting the region and voluntarily spending their money—and use those funds as springboards for even more funding and revenue; it is the best type of upward spiral economic trend: the more tourism dollars spent on lodging, the more dollars available to attract even more tourism dollars. Although there is no perfect computation, the estimate is something like every dollar spent on marketing generates some $10 in returns on lodging and restaurants.
Yes, it is appropriate to take a moment, drink champagne from glass slippers, lick our chops about the coming tourism dollars, and tallyho about a more bountiful economic future for the region. But that should be a fleeting moment. Next week is the time to roll up our collective sleeves and put in place the proper mechanisms to make sure these funds—really, pennies from tourism heaven—are spent effectively and efficiently.
In their endorsement interview, advocates for 9-94 said that they haven't worked out the exact details for allocating funds because it seemed presumptuous—an assertion we did not quite agree with, thinking instead that it would prudent to have the decision-making protocol worked out before the election so that voters would know completely what they were approving; not just a concept, but an entire process.
That said, we did endorse the measure—and are excited to see these funds get to work.
But now, as expectant as we are, we also urge voters and residents who supported the taxation measures to temper their expectations: Don't expect billboards promoting Tower Theatre events to pop up in the Willamette Valley tomorrow, and don't suddenly expect the Deschutes County Fair and Expo Center to be filled to capacity immediately. Although TRT increases were approved, neither takes effect until July 2014 and funding will not start trickling in until then. Moreover, what was approved is funding to purchase magic seeds to grow bean stalks; these funds will take some time to take root before they can begin to bring in more tourism. Just like the bond measure approved last November to fund Park & Rec projects in Bend, there is a lead time.
What's more, these measures won't cause a wholesale transformation in the region; they are merely a valuable piece of the larger funding puzzle for the region. Inherent in that assessment is that this is only one element, and that promoters, hoteliers and civic leaders need to continue to develop funding and marketing measures to create a more robust equation to bring in even more tourism dollars—and to fill out the region's economic potential.
Although the measures did increase both the City of Bend and Deschute County TRT, those rates remain distinctly below comparable cities in the region—with Seattle at 17.6 percent; Portland, 14.5 percent; and Boise, 13 percent, Central Oregon has plenty of room to further increase TRTs.
We hope that these two measures are only the beginning to a series of TRT increases, each designed to specifically generate more tourism and tourism dollars in the region.
Tuesday's victories were only one step forward. There is still room to grow.