A missed opportunity

Chico could reap the economic rewards if it had an organization effectively promoting tourism

The author, a Chico State alum and former small-business owner, spent 30 years as an executive in the U.S. travel industry.

Travel in the United States is a $990 billion business,with leisure travelers accounting for 70 percent of the direct economic impact. They spend on hotels, restaurants, bars, attractions, cultural events, grocery stores and gas stations. This economic activity directly supports 8.6 million jobs, with a payroll in excess of $248 billion. It generates $158 billion in federal, state and local taxes.

Locally, the recently created Explore Butte County organization promotes all of the county, with emphasis on outdoor activities. However, Chico is missing out because it doesn’t have its own program directed at the pleasure traveler, in particular those interested in cultural events.

Indeed, Chico needs a stand-alone, not-for-profit marketing organization, an entity that will promote Chico as a tourist destination. This organization should be funded by a dedicated portion of the city’s transient occupancy tax (TOT). This tax is levied on hotel guests, so it should be used to increase hotel occupancy.

The city’s 2016-17 annual budget includes about $2.3 million in TOT revenue. However, all of the money goes into the general fund, when a healthy portion should be reinvested in getting the word to potential tourists and companies about what Chico has to offer. The measurement of tourism marketing’s return on investment varies based on the destination. The state of Texas shows a return of $10-$16 per dollar. Take the lesser number, halve it and imagine what a $1 million investment would mean for Chico’s economy.

Marketing partnerships between the city, the university and private businesses need to be developed. Take Bidwell Mansion and the university, for example. They’re both state institutions. The university’s Recreation, Hospitality and Parks Department has internship programs. Since the mansion is open only three days a week for a total of 18 hours, why not involve students pursuing a degree for a career in the hospitality industry in the day-to-day activities? The same could hold true for the other museums and galleries, all which have limited hours of operation.

There is no reason for Chico to continue to ignore the potential of tourism. Its continued budget problems make this obvious.