Whacking state tourism budget a chilling prospect | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Whacking state tourism budget a chilling prospect

Susan Wood, Tribune staff writer

The plan to eliminate half the state tourism commission’s $14 million budget didn’t sit well with the South Lake Tahoe Lodging Association, which received a glimpse Thursday of the good, the bad and the ugly of state tourism from a commission representative.

In the midst of running its Find Yourself Here advertising campaign, the California Travel and Tourism Commission hopes the Legislature will find a spot in its budget proposal for the $7 million in tourism funds Gov. Gray Davis took out of his plan.

The hotel establishment met at the Lake Tahoe Community College for its monthly meeting. It relies on the state’s support to promote Lake Tahoe — where the mantra is tourism, tourism, tourism. Even though it does not receive dollars directly from the commission, the local association reaps dividends via tourists responding to state ad campaigns.

“I can’t impress how important it is to get some or all of it back,” said Pete Mac Roberts, who runs Viking Motor Lodge. “It’s inconceivable that (Davis) would do this.”

Mac Roberts urged lodging association members to take part in an organized lobby day in Sacramento April 29. The California Travel Industry Association will be joined by hotel managers, restaurant owners and others invested in tourism to voice their dissent about the Davis plan.

John Koeberer, vice chairman for the California Chamber of Commerce, said, “Such a decline would be especially hard on the rural economies left without any marketing program.”

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Without intervention from the Legislature, the commission will be forced to lay off 24 employees and cut back advertising programs — including cooperative funds, public relations functions and trade show participation.

Travel and tourism in 2002 channeled an estimated $75.8 billion into the state’s economy, according to the commission.

In a contingency plan, the tourism commission has drafted three budgets — $14 million, $10 million and $7 million.

The commission has already appealed to lawmakers to keep the state’s portion in their budget.

“You could make the argument — look, this is not a cost, this is an investment,” said tourism Commissioner Bob Roberts, the California Ski Industry Association spokesman. “Every department in the state is being analyzed closely. But we’re presenting this as a violation of our deal.”

The problems don’t end at the state line.

Roberts said he’s bracing for the ramifications of an Iraq war on state tourism.

“When the hostilities start, it will be a terrible concern. And it’s going to impact the international markets for a long time,” he said.

For now, the state’s tourism commission focuses on its expansion into Western U.S. markets with a new round of ads in the Find Yourself Here campaign.

“After 9-11, we did do a lot of shifting from the Western U.S. market into California,” commission Deputy Director Jennifer Jasper told lodging association members.

With 87 percent of California travelers living in the state, internal promotion represents the marketing mainstay.

The commission returned to markets outside the state like Denver, Seattle, Portland, Las Vegas and Phoenix with last week’s airing of a television commercial.

Print ads promoting the state will appear in People magazine’s upcoming Academy Award edition, Travel and Leisure, Golf, Better Housekeeping, Outside, Ski and National Geographic Traveler.

-Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at swood@tahoedailytribune.com