Travel ad budget to remain steady

By Nathaniel Smith • The Times-Independent

Gyrations played out Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning in terms of next year’s local tourism budget.

At an Aug. 28 meeting of the Moab Area Travel Council, plans were made to decrease the advertising budget in anticipation of a change in state tax law, but on Wednesday morning at a county budget advisory board meeting Aug. 29, Chris Baird, the presumed incoming new county clerk/auditor, said the budget should be planned assuming the law will remain the same.

Based on projected transient room tax revenue, the Travel Council will spend about $2 million on advertising in 2019. If the Utah Legislature does change the TRT law, a public hearing will be held and the budget reworked accordingly. Furthermore, if the Grand County Council approves salary increases for county employees, then the wage change will be taken out of the advertising budget.

On a related topic, Elaine Gizler, Travel Council director, will also request that the county council approve the hiring of a part-time social media coordinator.

At an atypically well-attended special meeting on Aug. 28, the Moab Area Travel Council Advisory Board passed a 2019 budget to take to the county council for approval. That budget was revamped the next morning. That budget would have seen an approximate 10.5 percent decrease in the promotion budget. This year, the Travel Council is projected to spend about $1.9 million on advertising.

The decrease that was temporarily pondered by the Travel Council was predicated in anticipation of a change in how the State of Utah governs the allocation of transient room tax revenues. Currently, state law requires two percent out of the four and a quarter percent of TRT collected to go toward tourism promotion. According to Travel Council Advisory Board Chair Howard Trenholme, discussions are underway among state legislators about reducing the amount of TRT required to be spent on promotion. Those changes are still just possibilities. Trenholme said he “wasn’t privy” to the exact details of the discussions and was unsure what the changes would be.

Gizler on Tuesday said she wanted to be proactive now rather than making cuts if the law does change. The extra money would have been placed into a discretionary fund that could be used to mitigate the impacts of tourism or could go into a promotion. But that became moot Wednesday morning.

During the Tuesday meeting, the board debated a list of recommendations to forward to the county council. Going through the list, some suggestions were cut and the remaining were split into two categories: recommendations for the legislature and recommendations for the county council. Suggestions for the legislature included using threshold levels to determine what a county has to spend on advertising instead of one set rate for the entire state, encouraging federal agencies to collect TRT on camping fees, reimbursing county law enforcement for calls responded to on public lands, and allowing TRT revenue to be spent on affordable housing projects. Some suggestions for the county council are that the Travel Council director be paid a similar amount to other department heads in the county (she is currently paid less), and that tourism-related activities, such as skydiving and scenic tours, be taxed an additional one percent under the Tourism, Recreation, Cultural and Convention tax code. The recommendations are still being revised.