The seven members of the Sheridan Travel & Tourism Board of Commissioners voted unanimously in favor of requesting that the city of Sheridan and the towns of Clearmont, Dayton and Ranchester approve a resolution that will allow the Sheridan County commissioners to pose to the voting public whether they favor a 4 percent countywide lodging tax during November 2018’s general election.
Sheridan, Ranchester and Clearmont councils voted in favor of this measure earlier this week; the Dayton Town Council will vote July 2.
Why a countywide lodging tax?
The lack of a countywide lodging tax puts Sheridan County at a competitive disadvantage with regards to marketing and advertising against other regional tourism destinations such as Bozeman and Deadwood and even much larger cities, like Billings, Denver and Rapid City. Each of these destinations has significantly higher lodging tax rates; the national average is currently 13 percent.
Sheridan County-based attractions and accommodations have expressed a desire for marketing assistance, and many have expressed support for a countywide lodging tax.
The 4 percent countywide lodging tax would replace the current 4 percent citywide lodging tax; it would not add to the existing 4 percent. Locals do not pay the lodging tax. The tax is paid only by visitors staying overnight in hotels, motels, RV parks, campgrounds and B&Bs. The lodging tax has always been and will remain a tax that locals do not pay. Tourism is the second-largest industry in Wyoming and is critical to the diversification of the state’s economy. Travel and tourism spending in Sheridan County is worth more than $100 million per year.
Countywide lodging tax revenue spending would be governed by a joint powers board, with representation from each of Sheridan County’s municipalities.
The lodging tax vote does not jeopardize other initiatives like the Optional One-Cent Sales Tax vote. Historically, both initiatives receive overwhelmingly positive community support. The citywide lodging tax passed with nearly 76 percent of the vote in the 2016 general election.
Only four other counties in Wyoming do not have a countywide lodging tax. These four are much smaller than Sheridan, and do not have nearly as large a tourism industry.
Countywide lodging tax collections would begin July 1, 2019.
Sheridan Travel & Tourism has demonstrated an ability to effectively market attractions across Sheridan County to regional, national and international visitors. Additional funds will allow STT to continue strengthening these marketing efforts to positively impact local businesses.
How would the countywide lodging tax revenue be spent?
If lodging properties in Sheridan County run an occupancy rate of 50 percent, lodging tax revenue would be $441,241. An occupancy rate of 25 percent would yield $220,620 for community marketing and promotions. I’ll use $300,000 in revenue as a baseline for the following examples.
Additional lodging tax revenue would allow Sheridan Travel & Tourism to expand marketing efforts on behalf of Sheridan County lodging properties, attractions, historic sites and associated travel and tourism businesses. With additional lodging tax revenue, Sheridan Travel & Tourism could:
• Increase Sheridan’s domestic and international marketing presence with print, digital and editorial marketing campaigns in destinations like the Pacific Northwest, Texas, Illinois, Minnesota, as well as Germany, England, China and Canada, by launching consumer-focused campaigns that highlight Sheridan’s unique history and cultural legacy (polo, rodeo, ranching, outdoor recreation, wildlife, the arts, small town businesses, etc). Thirty percent of the budget would go toward print and digital advertising; 7 percent for direct sales, conferences and conventions.
• Increase strategic partnerships with local businesses through Sheridan Travel & Tourism’s robust grants and sponsorships program. This program helps fund events like Third Thursday, the WYO Rodeo, Suds N’ Spurs Brewfest, Snickers Cup, Dead Swede Hundo and many more. Twenty-five percent of the budget would be used for grants and sponsorships.
• Increase film industry relations and partnerships, create more promotional videos, and host additional film industry location scouts, producers, directors and writers. Create our own regionally-focused film incentive program. Increase frequency of media and tour operator familiarization tours to generate exposure for Sheridan County (a recent article in USA Today’s Go Escape Magazine featuring outdoor recreation in the Bighorn Mountains was worth more than $150,000 in editorial value to the community. A AAA Magazine feature on Sheridan County was worth more than $350,000 in editorial value). Fifteen percent of the budget would be used for the film and media program.
• Increase distribution of Sheridan visitor guides and visitor packets, both in print and digital form. We currently distribute more than 50,000 pieces of literature per year on behalf of local businesses, attractions and accommodations. Ten percent of the budget would be used for visitor engagement marketing.
• Increase shoulder season visitation by working extensively with lodging properties and local businesses to attract and host events in the spring, fall and winter, leveraging Sheridan’s unique seasonality; 10 percent of the budget would go toward shoulder-season promotions.
• Continue to develop www.sheridanwyoming.org as the hub of our marketing and promotion ecosystem with continued focus on all-inclusive booking platform, expanded features on local business, local stories and more; 3 percent of the budget would go toward website development.
Sheridan Travel & Tourism does not anticipate hiring new staff with additional lodging tax revenue: all additional marketing efforts will be implemented across Sheridan Travel & Tourism’s campaigns and programs. Continuing to focus on and grow the local travel and tourism industry is Sheridan County’s fastest track to continuing to diversify the local economy, spur economic development, and recruit, retain and attract new businesses, families, and individuals.
Shawn Parker is the executive director of Sheridan Travel and Tourism.