When the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe recently purchased the Mt. Pleasant Holiday Inn, it was surprising, but perhaps understandable that tribal officials decided to stop paying the lodging tax that funds our local tourism promotion.
The tribe has been spending millions of dollars to promote the Soaring Eagle Casino that attracts tens of thousands of tourists to come to Isabella County every day. Most are day-trippers that come by the carload and bus load and spend money here, not just at the casino. Other businesses like restaurants, gas stations, golf courses and specialty shops all benefit from the promotion of tourism. Although some visitors come here to only visit the casino, many other casino visitors spend money in our local establishments.
National studies and studies by the Michigan State University, in fact, show that for every dollar a community spends on promoting tourism, it comes back to the community many times over. The only disagreement is how large that multiplier really is. The lowest figures we've seen are a $2.28 return for every tourism promotion dollar spent, but some studies indicate it is many times that when all factors are considered including the multiplier effect on a local economy when new money is brought into a community.
But here in Isabella County, we now have a prominent Republican family, the LaBelles, telling Isabella County they too are opting out of paying the lodging tax that funds the Mt. Pleasant Convention and Visitors Bureau. Since we are talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars of lost revenues from the Holiday Inn and now the LaBelle-owned Comfort Inn and Fairfield Inn, what we are talking about is killing the Mt. Pleasant Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Perhaps, the second-generation LaBelles are not as astute as their dad and forgot that only tourists pay for that lodging tax and not them. Perhaps their accountants are looking at declining revenues because the LaBelles now have formidable competition locally, or perhaps they are simply like many other Republican business people -- they don't care about what happens to their local community. All they care about is how much money they get to take home.
A simple solution for short-sighted folks who don't understand they are part of a community is to make the lodging tax mandatory. Do you suppose that hotel owners in Frankenmuth and Mackinaw City want to destroy their local tourism promotion agencies?
Do you suppose economic development officials there think it is a bad idea to promote an industry that brings in millions of dollars to their community?
I can imagine next that the LaBelles will want to opt out of the fees that finance our 911 service and taxes that pay for police and fire protection.
Isabella County has a bright future if we all wake up to the fact that tourism can play a significant role in our economic development and rather than cutting our efforts to promote it, we should be working together to make it more effective.