Proposal for occupancy tax is good, say officials

First Posted: 4/6/2009

As Surry County continues to evolve in promoting tourism, tourism officials say a bill which would create extra funding to support such efforts by imposing a 6-percent occupancy tax in unincorporated areas of the county is a step in the right direction.
It puts all the lodging accommodations on the same playing field, said Jessica Icenhour, the director of tourism at the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce. It provides a revenue stream for the county to participate in tourism, and with all of us working together, the revenue will help support tourism efforts. It would be a positive impact.
Ninetieth District Rep. Sarah Stevens and District 92 Rep. Darrell McCormick are primary sponsors of the bill, and announced their support of the effort last week.
The bill targets most for-profit lodging establishments, including hotels, motels, and bed and breakfast inns, while accommodations furnished by nonprofit charitable, educational or religious organizations are exempt.
Room occupancy taxes of 6 percent are already in place in all of the local townships and cities in Surry County, but those not located in any towns city limits are exempt from the tax.
The way the tax works it only affects visitors staying locally, and the funds received are allocated specifically to support tourism efforts and promotion. The funds are distributed to tourism development authorities in Dobson, Elkin, Mount Airy and Pilot Mountain. Those groups will in turn give one-third of the money to the Tourism Partnership of Surry County, chaired by Valerie Oberle. If the bill that McCormick and Stevens have sponsored becomes law, the extra money will go to those organizations.
It would be paid by visitors and travelers to the unincorporated areas of the county who stay in a lodging establishment. The revenues generated would remain here locally and can only be used to promote and market the community to tourists and travelers, said Chris Knopf, assistant county manager of Tourism and Economic Development. It will allow for all types of advertising and marketing whether online or in print, it will provide grants to businesses that are dependent on visitor spending in the county, and it will assist the Tourism Partnership in its endeavors. This tax allows the county to better develop the tourism industry which is growing in Surry County.
Valerie Oberle, who heads the Tourism Partnership of Surry County, an organization that combines the tourism efforts of Surry County and its four municipalities, called the proposal by McCormick and Stevens a smart decision.
Almost all cities expect tourist to pay it, it generates revenue and helps economic impact in the community, Oberle said. I am pleased to see Stevens and McCormick support this, theyve done their homework. Its good for county.
Oberle said once a month those operating lodgings report their revenue to the county, which includes the 6-percent occupancy tax. The state requries those funds to be used toward travel promtion and tourism efforts.
The goal is to get heads in beds, she said. Heads in beds, a tourism slogan, means to get visitors to say overnight in hotels or other lodging so they may spend more money in the local economy.
It is spent on attracting overnight guests and increasing awareness, Web site development and to lure people to Surry County. It also being used for this new branding process, she said.
That new branding process is a campaign being launched by Tourism Partnership to draw visitors to the county and its four municipalities. Known as the Very Surry campaign, it consists of bold single iconic images which are distinctively Surry County such as camping, music, festivals and wineries. The images would be original art and authentic scenes of Surry County.
From the money allocated to Tourism Partnershp of Surry County from the occupancy tax revenue distributed by local TDAs, it hired Clemmons-based MadCat, a branding company, to develop the brand and marketing strategy.
Promoting tourism helps to bring people to the area to spend money and take advantage of a good value vacation, in Surry County because of its variety of activities, Oberle said.
Im thrilled about what Stevens and McCormick are doing, she said. Its smart for them to do this.

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