Bill would revamp tourism marketing, funding

state-capitol-dome_webLawmakers will hash out their differences on a bill that would revamp how the state markets itself as a tourist destination, and how those activities are funded.

Senate Bill 2565 would establish the Mississippi Tourism Advisory Board that would serve to help the Mississippi Development Authority develop strategies for advertising and marketing the state’s tourism attractions. The bill would also create the tourism advertising and marketing Fund, whose money would be used to pay the costs the MDA incurs in carrying out those strategies.

The format would include implementing a five-year pilot program to test a new funding mechanism for tourism marketing that would begin in fiscal year 2015. Starting in fiscal year 2014, the commissioner of revenue would calculate the growth in sales tax revenues generated by defined tourism activities and put that amount into the tourism and marketing fund. That practice, under the bill, would end at the conclusion of fiscal year 2018. The amount deposited into the special fund could not exceed $15 million.

At the program’s conclusion, officials with the MDA, the Department of Revenue and the Department of Finance and Administration would recommend to the governor to either discontinue the program or make it permanent. During that time, the MDA would be required to perform a return-on-investment assessment of the program, and file the results with the Legislature.

There is work to be done on the bill, though. The main sticking point between the House and Senate versions is who will serve on the advisory board. The House version has the MDA’s executive director, director of tourism, the president of the Mississippi Tourism Association and seven members appointed by the governor, with each member having voting power but the two from the MDA. The Senate version just has the seven members appointed by the governor. In each bill, the appointed members would represent multiple tourism sectors — restaurants, hospitality, hotels, casinos and others.

The bill has been sent to conference. Lawmakers have until March 30 to file the conference report.

In 2011, tourism-related activities brought in $5.97 billion, according to the Mississippi Tourism Association.

Currently, the MDA’s tourism marketing efforts are funded by the agency’s general appropriation, said spokesperson Jennifer Spann.

The program laid out by the bill is similar to one other states have implemented with a good amount of success, she said.

Missouri’s program started in 1994. It set aside a percentage of tourism-generated sales tax revenue for tourism promotion. When the program started, that state’s tourism promotion budget was $6 million. It reached a high-water mark in 2009 of $21 million.

The Mississippi legislation lays out no such goals for the program, but the growth the past two decades in the Missouri program is considered a model, Spann said.

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