Tourism presents year-end review report to Lincoln Aldermen

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[April 01, 2016]  LINCOLN - On Tuesday evening, the Lincoln City Council met for its Committee of the Whole workshop session. All eight aldermen were present for the meeting.

The first item on the agenda was a year-end review report from Maggie McMurtrey of the Logan County Tourism Bureau. McMurtrey presented the year-end financial records for the tourism bureau and fielded questions from the council. She also spent time explaining the Tourism Bureau’s three-year cycle auditing process and updated the council on the progress of the currently ongoing audit.

In reviewing the financial records, Todd Mourning asked for information concerning an expense for professional sports advertising. McMurtrey explained that the bureau had taken an ad with the Chicago Bulls. The half-page ad had been placed in the Bulls magazine that was distributed at the games as well as visitors bureaus throughout the area. In addition, the Bureau had been given Bulls tickets, which in turn were auctioned off as a fundraiser for the restoration of the Tropics sign. Rick Hoefle asked how much the tickets had sold for, and McMurtrey said $250.00

Tracy Welch asked about an expenditure for software called “Chamber Master.” McMurtrey said that was a data tracking program used by the Lincoln/Logan County Chamber of Commerce. The program collects and stores data about chamber memberships. She said that the Tourism Bureau uses the data as a resource when recruiting volunteers or soliciting other services or monetary donations for tourist activities.

Welch also noted there was a gap in cash fund between the two previous years amounting to about $45,000. He asked for an explanation. McMurtrey said the Bureau had carryover funds of $45,000. The decision had been made to transfer the funds into a Money Market account so that it would gain interest. She said the account was set up so that the dollars are still immediately accessible when needed, but in the meantime it is earning at a rate just over one-percent.

Welch also noted, that annually only about 25 percent of the budget is expended on sub-grants and advertising with the rest being operating costs. He wondered if the Bureau could do something to reduce overhead and increase dollars invested in the promotion of Lincoln and Logan County.

Tourism Council chairman Sal Pollice was also in attendance and asked if Welch and the council had any suggestions how that might be done. Welch said he had no idea, and that even if the Bureau did streamline some, it probably wouldn’t be all that significant an amount. McMurtrey said the Bureau could certainly look for ways to cut costs. However, she also noted that because she is sharing space and staff with the Logan County Alliance and Chamber, that she is operating a lot more efficiently than if she had to rent space and pay staff on her own.

Welch’s last question was about the profit and loss in the current year. He said it appeared that in 2016 the Bureau is operating at a deficit. He wondered if that was the case.

McMurtrey said the answer was “yes and no.” She said this was a poor time of year for hotel/motel tax revenues in general. She noted that it does appear there is a deficit now, but when the tax payments increase this summer during the travel season it will all work out.

She also noted that the February hotel/motel tax was much higher this year than last year, which was a surprise. In addition, McMurtrey said that the Bureau, generally speaking, gets its funds the month after the obligation occurs, so February payments came in March, and so on.

Mourning asked if the Bureau had a way of tracking tourist stays in Lincoln. McMurtrey said that was a very difficult and ongoing issue. The Bureau wants to be able to track this, but it is hard to determine what brings people to Lincoln. She said she had conversations with management at the Hampton Inn, and the best suggestion they had was to follow the money.

She explained that the number of rooms in a motel doesn't change. So, the motel revenues are increasing when the cost of the room increases. The cost of the room increases when the demand increases. She said this was a common practice in the motel industry to raise the price of a room when rooms are in greater demand. She said the Hampton manager had said it was tough for him to say what brings people to his motel because his motel is almost always fully booked.

Jonie Tibbs asked again about the interest bearing account and wondered if one-percent was a good rate. Pollice, who is in the finance business, said that indeed it was. He said the rate, he thought was about 1.3 percent and that is much higher than a lot of available options.

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Tibbs also commented that she liked the financial report for the end of the year, but wished she could have seen this same document during the quarterly reports. She later went on to say she wanted to see this type of financial detail monthly.

McMurtrey said that the term of the current financial agreement between the city and Tourism is coming to an end. She said the new agreement could specify that the council wants detailed financials monthly, and she would be happy to come before the council with those reports.

Rick Hoefle asked about an entry in the report indicating payment to the LCA for the CEO. McMurtrey explained that it was a year to date figure and that the entry was from January when Andi Hake was still employed with the LCA.

Todd Morning asked about McMurtrey’s work schedule what was she doing and what was coming up.

McMurtrey said she is ramping up for the summer season. She explained that while the festival season is a busy time for everyone, her busy time starts earlier because of the work she is doing to help get ready for the season.

She said in addition to sub-grant requests, she is working on the state grant paperwork and is working to expand her advertising to other portions of the state. She said the focus was to start close to home and work outward, as had been prescribed through the marketing playbook designed by DCC Marketing.

She also noted that she will represent the Bureau at each of the events they provide grants to, such as at the fair, downtown festivals, and more, for the purpose of promoting Logan County tourist attractions and other upcoming events.

McMurtrey had reported that there are new billboards up on Interstate 55 north and south of Lincoln. Welch asked if she had any measure of how those billboards are perceived. He suggested that she do a focus group that does not include Logan County residents, to see what impression the billboards leave when viewed. Michelle Bauer suggested perhaps a survey of some sort could be designed and linked to various Facebook pages related to local tourism, such as the Pigs and Swigs page.

Welch also asked about tracking visitors to local sights, suggesting the Bureau could implement a QR code program at each site. He said it could be useful in tracking the number of people who stop for example at the covered wagon. At the same time, the QR application could lead visitors from one site to the next. So, the QR at the wagon could suggest that visitors go to Postville Courthouse and the Mill on Route 66.

McMurtrey said it was worth looking into, and Welch said he “knows someone” who could help with that. Welch said he would work toward getting that person to contact McMurtrey.

In the end, McMurtrey reminded the council that at her next visit, she will be asking for a renewal of the city’s funding agreement with Tourism. She said that now was the time to make changes to that agreement. She asked that the city officials contact her with suggestions or changes they would like to see made in the new agreement.

McMurtrey ended saying she was always at their disposal; she is available to answer questions at any time either in person in her office or via phone or email. She also told the council that the financial records of the Bureau are open to them at any time. While McMurtrey does not do the bookkeeping personally, she said if the aldermen wish to review the finances at any time they can come to the office, and she and the bookkeeper will assist them in whatever way needed.

[Nila Smith]

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