How I feel about losing the tourism debate

Published 7:08 pm Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Dear Editor,

On Tuesday July 23, the LaGrange City Council voted 5-0 to form the LaGrange Convention & Visitor Bureau LCVB to handle the hotel/motel taxes earmarked for tourism. This decision meant the Troup County Tourism Development Authority (TCTDA), which I was involved in, was not selected. Some people have asked me how I feel about losing. 

Let me answer that, but first some history, goals and concerns. As a note, when I reference “we” it’s referring to the 14 outstanding volunteers involved with TCTDA. However, I wrote this article and the views expressed are solely mine. 

In early May, I was asked to support an alternative proposal to the LaGrange-Troup County of Commerce proposal to become the destination marketing organization for tourism. At the time, there was mention of no work required. However, my involvement evolved into more than 80 hours of work. 

Since then, I have asked myself, as has my wife, how that happened. I’ll tell you how.

First, tourism is a big deal for Troup County with about $167,000,000 of revenue for hotels, restaurants and tourist sites who employ about 1,300 people.

Second, I was increasingly concerned about the LaGrange-Troup County Chamber of Commerce and saw this as an opportunity to motivate others to get involved with the chamber.

Third, I have been involved with the DeCelle Ministry at First Presbyterian Church where every Wednesday from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. anyone is invited to come and share problems. Interestingly, a fair number of them are the working poor who have jobs with local hotels/motels and restaurants.

At the city council’s work session on July 23, I knew that later that evening the council was going to unanimously vote to accept City Manager Meg Kelsey’s recommendation to form LCVB. Therefore, I addressed concerns I have for the LCVB as follows:

First, I think the city’s original request for proposal had too much reliance on digital marketing. We understood the power of digital marketing, but our proposal also showed the importance of an executive director, who among other accomplishments has a track record of getting large conventions. I then emphasized that three or four large conventions per year should bring as many bed nights as a total digital marketing plan can in the same time.

The second concern is how will the City/LCVB account for overhead. This is typified by Kelsey saying that the LCVB will have no rental cost. The fact is the building the LCVB will use as an office is next to city hall and is being rented. Therefore, that becomes lost income. Also, there are utilities, renovations and city staff involvement that will be unaccounted for.

The city council will appoint the board, approve its budget, review timeliness and completion of reports and conduct an annual audit. It was said this is basically how the city set up the Development Authority of LaGrange (DAL) and the LaGrange Housing Authority (LHA). 

Coincidentally, I serve on both of those boards and can cite how each of the three has significant differences. Therefore, my third concern is that LCVB operate somewhat independently but with more oversight by the council than DAL and LHA until it proves itself.

Overall, I had three personal goals — the chamber makes significant changes, to be part of an alternate organization for tourism and for our group to be selected. The first two goals were accomplished. Since the city now has a plan similar to the one TC/TDA presented I feel as though at least half that goal was accomplished as well. Therefore, the answer to the question I posed in the headline is that I did not lose.

Increasing tourism is a vital need for LaGrange, so I support the LCVB.