Every year thousands of tourists come to Nauvoo. Some come to enjoy the Pageants, some the Grape Festival, and some just come to enjoy all the beauty and history that Nauvoo is so blessed with. They all spend their hard-earned money in our little shops, gas station, restaurants, and accommodations. Last year over $100,000 was collected, just in Hotel Motel Taxes. Thousands more was collected on behalf of citizens through sales taxes. This is in addition to the jobs created through the products and services offered and sold here in Nauvoo.
There can be little doubt that the major economic engine of Nauvoo is tourism. Currently, the Hotel Motel Taxes collected by the City are allocated into two funds. One, the General Fund is for use of general spending by the City. It pays the bills. The other fund, which receives half the taxes collected is the Hotel Motel Fund. This pays for the rent on the tourism office, the utilities, internet, any interns, and the Tourism Director salary and bonus. Over 80% of all funds retained by the Hotel Motel Fund from taxes are directed to Tourism Director pay. Once all of these expenses have been paid, very little remains in the Hotel Motel Fund for anything else.
Currently the Tourism Director attends travel shows in Utah and elsewhere, attends meetings to network with other communities and tourism offices, and participates in programs to try to increase tourism to Nauvoo. If we are happy with the current direction, a case could be made that the Hotel Motel Fund needs additional money to be able to do more actual marketing, if the decision was to be satisfied that tourism is the golden goose, and we just want more eggs. An analysis of how this investment has paid off will be helpful in looking forward.
From 2013 (the first year the City employed a Tourism Director) to the last full year report available (FY2016), the salary for this position increased by a combined 33%. The average annual increase for average Americans during these years was about 3.5% per year (per the Social Security Administration Average Wage Index). During this same period, Hotel Motel Taxes increased by 26%, with the majority increase occurring in Fiscal Year 2014. In Fiscal Year 2016, the Salary cost actually increased by more than the increase in Hotel Motel Taxes collected. In business terms, this is not a good return on investment. It can be a challenge to determine what the Tourism Director actually receives, since the numbers we have been provided do not always agree (the published report, the City’s check register, and the Hotel Motel cash flow reports).
When a city wins the Olympic Games, one of the factors that is taken into consideration is what legacy the games will leave. New stadiums, facilities and roads will be built. And when the games are over the infrastructure will remain to benefit the citizens. What legacy do tourists leave in Nauvoo? Very few businesses generate enough income in those few months to survive full-force through the rest of the year. So, restaurants close for the winter (if they’re smart), and others businesses go to reduced hours. Some, unfortunately do not make it at all.
So, when a decision is made about how to use these “golden eggs” perhaps legacy should be a consideration. Tourism is a great part of the Nauvoo economy, but a clear direction, with Citizen involvement, on setting goals for the Hotel Motel Board could help to ensure broader buy-in. Two things could happen: Tourism could be seen as a benefit to the community instead of a burden, and more citizens would feel the direction is one they had input into. Rather than tourism being something that happens to Nauvoo, it could be something that’s helping build a more vibrant Nauvoo.
One of the points used to promote the concept of Home-Rule in Nauvoo was the idea that it would allow tourism funds to be spent to improve City infrastructure (streets, sidewalks, etc.). This has not happened, but with a more responsible use of the funds collected, and revisiting the distribution of Hotel Motel tax funds is in order.
There will still be a need for marketing the City as a tourist destination, but a full-time salary position may not be needed as objectives are considered with citizen input. We need to rethink how Nauvoo manages its Hotel Motel Board, that’s a given. While we’re at it, let’s build something that really helps build Nauvoo.