Thursday, April 11, 2013
sponsored by

City debates what to do with tourism bureau

Send a link to a friend

[April 11, 2013]  The Tuesday night committee of the whole of the Lincoln City Council began with a presentation by the Abraham Lincoln Tourism Bureau of Logan County.

Bureau directors Peggy Lee and Gail Sasse offered a PowerPoint presentation on the bureau and the work they are doing in Lincoln and Logan County. Lee is the bureau's vice chair and Sasse is treasurer.

Also present in the gallery were several other tourism bureau members, including Stacie Wachtel, board president; Barbara Stroud-Borth, from Mount Pulaski, a director; Andy Anderson, county board liaison to tourism; Bill Hoagland, Main Street Lincoln's executive director; and David Doolin, who is working with the tourism bureau on developing smartphone applications to help promote local sites and businesses.

Lee and Sasse worked together to offer an overview of the bureau's strategic plan. Lee explained their vision and mission statements, then moved on to tell the council the strategic plan for the bureau is divided into three parts: the immediate ongoing projects, short-term projects and long-term projects. She said the group works to promote Lincoln and Logan County through advertising campaigns that encourage overnight stays. She explained the operative goal "heads in beds" means dollars spent on motel rooms, food, and gas, as well as local shopping.

Each council member was given a packet from the tourism bureau, the same as are given directly to visitors when they attend local events. Packets are handed out at the Logan County Fair, the Railsplitter Festival and at the courthouses.

Throughout the presentation, Lee and Sasse presented several "Did you know...?" facts about local attractions and the tourism bureau. Among those facts: Lincoln Heritage Museum had 4,000 visitors in 2012. Postville Courthouse had 1,716 visitors in 2012. Among those visits, 243 were from out of state and 63 were international visitors. Gail's Pumpkin Patch in rural Beason had 11,000 visitors in 2012. Of those 450 attended as a result of the tourism bureau's Farm Tour Day.

Financially, the bureau makes generous donations to the Lincoln Heritage Museum, invests approximately $100 per month in their information packets, and supports the annual Lincoln Art & Balloon Festival and the 1800's Craft Fair at Postville Courthouse during the festival.

The group also works to help promote Lincoln as a venue for sporting activities and is part of the Sports Commission. The bureau had accomplished getting Lincoln as a listing in the Illinois Play Book, which goes out to organizations seeking sporting event venues. It was noted that Lincoln hosts 16 different sports with 14 available venues.

Mayor Keith Snyder asked if the tourism bureau supported the basketball tournament. He didn't specify what tournament he was referring to, but Lee said the bureau does support the annual Trojan tournament hosted each February by Lincoln Junior High School. She said the group assists financially with that event. They have also provided tourism packets at the various schools where the games are played.

Sasse told the council that inside their annual budget, $23,660 is earmarked for use in Lincoln in 2013 and $9,410 is earmarked for locations throughout the county.

On their list of short-term goals, the bureau is working on projects with the Lincoln College Museum, the Logan County Looking for Lincoln program and Postville Courthouse. In addition, they are working with the Illinois Department of Transportation on getting highway signage and markers in the area.

Included in their long-term plans are hospitality training programs for local businesses. These trainings will be aimed at assisting local business owners in being able to point out various items of interest to their visitors.

The group is also continuing work with restoration and signage projects. Lee pointed out that tourism has worked with state agencies to bring the wayside signage program to Lincoln and Logan County. They are working to have Lincoln and Logan County sites become a part of the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area, which Lee said involved a lot of man-hours invested in paperwork.

Lee talked about the bureau being a certified bureau, something that is not available to municipalities. She said the certification enables the bureau to apply for grant funding. In addition, they are part of the the Illinois Council of Convention & Visitor Bureaus, which gives them an opportunity to take advantage of collective marketing programs.

The presenters talked about the work they are doing with David Doolin in creating smartphone applications that will help steer visitors from one point of interest to another throughout the community. A big part of that application will be information about local motels, eateries, shopping spots and more.

Lee told the council that they will soon be hearing from the Downtown Revitalization Steering Committee about tourism's role in the downtown projects, and they are looking forward to seeing what that role will be.

Lee said all the work they do is about "heads in beds." She said the average overnight visitor to Lincoln will spend $200 on lodging, food, gasoline and shopping.

Some of the slides shown during the presentation included one showing that since 2005, the hotel-motel tax has increased 32 percent. She was asked how many new motels had come to the area in that time, and she noted the change to Best Western and the establishment of a Hampton Inn in the area. She told the council that having the name-brand motels in the community -- Best Western, Hampton and Holiday Inn, for example -- was good for the city in that people enjoy having their favorite motel chains in a community, and they search for that when they are considering a visit.

She also noted that Best Western and Hampton in particular work with tourism by promoting special pricing during special events. She noted the April activities going on in Elkhart. She said the motels are offering significant discounts to Elkhart visitors, and Elkhart events were scheduled across two days each time in order to promote overnight stays.

Finally, Lee said another goal of the bureau would be to move their offices to a location closer to Interstate 55, so as to be more easily located by visitors.

Lee said the bureau was pleased to be presenting to the council and would like to return in July for another presentation. She asked that the council give her guidance on what they might want her to talk about.

[to top of second column]

David Wilmert expressed an interest in knowing more about the number of international visitors who come to Lincoln.

Other questions that were posed to Lee and Sasse included how they arrived at their counts for the visitors to the world's largest covered wagon. They had reported the wagon receives approximately 1,500 visits per month. The bureau owns, maintains and insures the wagon. Lee said there is a cooperative with Best Western and Logan Lanes, with personnel of the businesses noting the visitors they see at the site. In addition the bureau does the same thing, plus they count the number of brochures being taken out of the information box at the wagon.

They were also asked how they came up with the $200 per person overnight stay figure. Lee said they had estimated that figure based on current costs for lodging, food and gasoline.

Snyder asked that they provide a precise breakdown of how they spend $23,000 per year in the city of Lincoln. Sasse said they could bring that back to their next meeting.

Lee also mentioned that the bureau was pleased to have a city representative as a voting member on their board, and they had also thought that they should have monthly meetings with a core group that included the city. She finished by telling the group that the tourism board wanted to have open communication with the council and hoped that would be made possible.

After they were finished, Chuck Conzo, city treasurer, commented that in addition to what is measured through the hotel-motel tax, there are unrecognized revenues coming to Lincoln through the sales tax. He said he felt there was a lot of money coming into Lincoln through day visitors who were not measured by overnight stays.

He also said the presentation given by Lee and Sasse offered him information that he had not previously known.

When Lee and Sasse were finished, the council moved on to talking about budget matters but returned to the topic of tourism later in the evening.

When the topic was reintroduced, David Wilmert was the first to speak, saying he didn't think the city should make any changes this fiscal year. He said the city should give tourism a year and see what happens. He said they made a nice presentation and that he knew more now than he had before. He also noted that the city now has good representation on the tourism board and that is a good thing.

Snyder commented that the tourism bureau has been represented by the executive director, who had given regular reports to the city, but in Snyder's four years in office, this type of information had not been presented to the council.

City administrator Sue McLaughlin also noted that some of the information provided was inaccurate. She said tourism didn't have to be certified, that there were still grants that could be obtained. She added the city could still participate in the state tourism bureau.

Tom O'Donohue said he thought that it boiled down to: "What are our expectations of the tourism bureau? If the expectations are such that we don't think they can meet them, then yes, we ought to take the money. But if the expectations are such that they can make, then it pains me to say it, but I think we ought to do what we said we'd do and give them a chance."

McLaughlin also pointed out that comments made about the $200 expenditure of an overnight guest were inaccurate. She said the true figure was $175 for overnight stays and $50 for a day visit. She said those figures came directly from the state.

She also commented on where the priorities lie for the bureau. "I think it is a little telling when they only spend $2,500 on sports projects and $5,000 on preservation projects, when actually you're generating more than three times as much on sports events," she said.

McLaughlin added that an important aspect of this was whether or not the city would be able to help the bureau change their focus. She concluded: "I'm not saying eliminate it; I'm saying change their direction a little bit."

O'Donohue said he thought that was a big part of it, that the council needed to have more say in how the money is spent. He added that maybe a single vote on the tourism board was enough to help with that redirection, but the council needed to decide that.

Melody Anderson said she felt the same. She mentioned previous years when similar discussions had come up over Main Street Lincoln and the development partnership CEDS money.

She said: "I don't like the idea of pulling the rug out from underneath without any forewarning or expectation. The way I look at tourism is they really haven't had any guidance up to this point, so it is partially our fault as well as theirs. I would be more inclined to stick with the Dec. 1 deadline and see if they can provide us with some forward movement on our expectations. But, I think we have to make those expectations clear to them, not just them coming and providing us with an informational PowerPoint. I'd like to see effort made to get some of these organizations together to bring in more sporting events."

Marty Neitzel said: "The way I look at it, they have everything in place, and I agree they need guidance. I would hate to think that we would just pull the rug out from under them. First of all, we'd lose every volunteer there is. Let's give them guidance and communicate. This whole town needs to communicate."

Wilmert also added that in regard to the work on the smartphone applications, that would actually help measure numbers. He didn't believe that December would give the bureau enough time to get everything in place. He said he'd rather wait and do it at the beginning of the next fiscal year, which would be May 1, 2014. He added that he felt anything the city takes on should be done at the beginning of its fiscal year.

Snyder commented that the Dec. 1 date was based on the beginning of the fiscal year for the county. The county now controls the hotel-motel tax funds, and a portion of this change would include the city taking that funding from the county.

Kathy Horn also commented that the bureau now has a city watchdog. She said O'Donohue was on the board and had a vote. But, Snyder said that hasn't actually been approved yet by the county board. The tourism bureau has written a voting member into their bylaws, but the county will have to approve those bylaws before it becomes actual fact.

Snyder commented that he thought the suggestion of setting their expectations was a good one. He said the bureau deserved to know that, and then figure out whether or not they were capable of meeting those expectations.

In the end, the council agreed on establishing a committee specifically for the tourism bureau to help establish city expectations of the bureau.


< Top Stories index

Back to top


News | Sports | Business | Rural Review | Teaching and Learning | Home and Family | Tourism | Obituaries

Community | Perspectives | Law and Courts | Leisure Time | Spiritual Life | Health and Fitness | Teen Scene
Calendar | Letters to the Editor