Monday, October 12, 2009

Tourism Bureau Trouble

Column Notes: This one generated some good reactions. Someone said I should run for office and another person said I should be county merchandising coordinator. :)

For context, here's a link to the tourism bureau's website so you can understand the references to the Sunny Side of Louisville. And here's a link to the story about Larry Wilder and his adventures with a trash can.

HARBESON: Follow the money trail to the Tourism Bureau

Local Columnist

For many years now, the Clark-Floyd Counties Convention and Tourism Bureau has worked to promote Southern Indiana as “The SunnySide of Louisville.” But last week, an ugly dark cloud settled over the organization’s board meeting.

The first indication of trouble was the influx of local politicians in attendance. Of course, whenever two or more politicians are gathered in the name of government, the sun usually makes a hasty retreat, but why were they there?

They don’t normally attend such meetings.

Apparently everyone was interested in the possible retirement of Executive Director Jim Keith. After a heated meeting full of confusion, Keith ended up with a contract for four more years. This upset the politicians who were under the impression that his retirement was imminent.

If I was a Jeffersonville politician, I’d want Mr. Keith to retire too. He certainly did not take advantage of the opportunity to promote local tourism when Larry Wilder made national news. Just think of the jobs it could have created, selling maps to the location and little souvenir trash cans.

Some board members were also upset because until now they felt this organization had managed to stay nonpolitical, but what they need to realize is that politics was inevitable.

After all, the board is a government organization and it only exists because an arbitrary law makes it so. The most logical reason that political maneuvering did not happen before now is because the funds under their control were not worth the trouble.

But since the area has grown, I’m sure the funds have increased significantly enough that they can smell opportunity. Just like tourists are attracted to fun, politicians are attracted to big piles of tax money. It’s just nature.

Another reason we haven’t heard much controversy is because the people who are forced to pay the taxes that fund government tourism bureaus mostly do not live in the area. So no one really hears their grumbling.

I wonder how this all started. Certainly more businesses than lodging benefit when tourists come into town. Plus there are many reasons why people stay overnight that have nothing to do with tourism, such as weddings or a car breakdown. Yet they still have to pay the tax to help promote the area’s tourism.

So here we have yet another example of government interference in something that could easily function without it.

Any businesses that benefit from tourists and overnight visitors could easily set up their own private organizations and work to promote the area in mutually beneficial ways.

There could be a variety of membership options and benefits offered and businesses would be free to join or not. Then they could price their products and services according to market value without having to also play tax collector for the government.

The freedom would benefit the general public too, and not just in regard to taxation. Business groups can have disagreements privately which means we wouldn’t have to endure battles full of the bullying and threats that occur when politicians want more control.

It’s just so strange that politicians are involved in this at all. They provide absolutely no valuable service to the visitors. They’re not the ones who change the sheets and clean the toilets, get up early to prepare breakfast or work late hours to be available for late check-in.

But I guess they don’t have time for such things when they are so busy trying to figure out how to take control of yet another government agency that might have a load of other people’s money they can spend.

Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson thinks the best way to promote tourism is to send all politicians to an area where the sun don’t shine.

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