Hurting hotels to help airport makes no sense, groups claim in concerted protest

COLUMBIA, 12/4/12 (Beat Byte) -- Another statewide travel and tourism organization has announced opposition to plans by Columbia Mayor Bob McDavid and local economic boosters to hike and divert tourism tax dollars to upgrade the Columbia Regional Airport.
The Missouri Travel Council (MTC) joins the Missouri Hotel and Lodging Association and the Columbia Hospitality Association (CHA) in publicly opposing the plan, which proposes lodging tax hikes and diversion of tens of millions of dollars in tourism and event development funds to airport redevelopment.

"Designating airport renovations as a form of tourism marketing is an incredible stretch of the intended use of tourism marketing funds," said MTC President Laura Tobey. "While the airport certainly helps bring people to Columbia, the airport itself is not the destination. To redirect funds from their intended purpose sets a dangerous precedent for Missouri’s tourism industry."

Tobey echoes former Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau director Lorah Steiner, who for years cautioned against allowing elected officials access to convention and tourism funds for projects tangentially related to tourism. Airports, bus depots, train stations, and other transportation gateways, Steiner maintained, must be self-supporting through ticket sales and directly allocated funds.

What's more, the tourism industry should not have to subsidize non-tourism travel, the argument goes. While tourists often travel through airports, so do millions of non-tourists, including business travelers and family visitors.

Mayor McDavid has proposed raising the lodging tax paid by Columbia’s hospitality industry from 4%, to 7%, a 75 percent increase, some or all of which would improve or replace the airport’s terminal. The Columbia Hospitality Association, which represents most of the city’s 35 hotels, motels and bed & breakfast operations, has steadfastly opposed the plan since it was announced.