Taxes generated by visitors on the rise in 2014

Marietta’s bed tax revenues have continued to rise through the first half of 2014, according to the Marietta-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, which reported a 23.25 percent increase from the city’s 6 percent transient guest tax since January.

CVB executive director Jeri Knowlton said although much of the uptick in bed tax revenue in recent years can be attributed to business travelers, especially those working with the oil and gas industry, the newest figures indicate an increase in both business and leisure travel locally.

“We’re seeing a rise in travel across all sectors, not just from business travelers,” she said. “When I talk to local hotel, motel and bed and breakfast operators, they’re benefiting from both business and leisure travelers.”

Second quarter bed tax revenues, from April through June, totaled $148,599, compared to $115,269 for the same period in 2013, an increase of 29 percent, according to the CVB’s quarterly report that will be shared with the Marietta City Council’s finance committee today.

So far this year the transient guest tax has totaled $241,983. That figure was $196,239 in 2013.

Marietta’s City Council splits the 6 percent bed tax 50/50 with the CVB.

Councilman Tom Vukovic, D-4th Ward, who chairs council’s finance committee, noted the demand for lodging has resulted in the opening of two new motels since last year, including a new Comfort Inn & Suites in the First Colony Center development, and a Red Roof Inn that just opened last week after extensive renovations to the former Econolodge facility near the Walmart complex.

“We all know that the oil and gas industry has clearly played a large part in the increased bed tax revenue, but this area really is attracting more tourists and we’re seeing more out-of-town people coming here,” Vukovic added, touting Marietta’s historic and recreational attractions.

Elizabeth Ours, general manager of the Red Roof Inn that opened July 17, agreed.

“We sold about 20 rooms that first night, and since then we’ve had 100 percent occupancy in our 48 rooms,” she said. “Of course we have some of the oil and gas people staying here, but we’re also getting quite a lot of leisure travelers who’ve been asking me about what’s in downtown Marietta.”

Vukovic said a recently-added historic site, the Basilica of St. Mary of the Assumption on Fourth Street, has become a new draw for tourists, especially bus tours that have added the basilica to their agendas.

The CVB reports that bus and group tours have increased this year, too.

“This year we’ve had 28 group tours already and we have another 15 scheduled for the remainder of the year,” according to Shannon Beacham, member relations and group tour coordinator for the CVB.

She said tours booked through the CVB are up at least 86 percent over 2013.

Vukovic said the development of more “brand name” lodging facilities like the new Fairfield Inn & Suites, Comfort Suites and Red Roof Inn also attracts travelers from I-77 into Marietta.

Councilman Harley Noland, D-at large, ex-officio member of the CVB board of directors, said the increase in transient guest tax revenue is welcome news, but he would like to see a better breakdown showing how many of those overnight guests are business travelers or tourists.

“For example, how many people coming to see the local museums and other attractions are from outside of this area?” he asked. “Some attractions used to keep a log of zip codes that helped track where visitors came from, but they don’t do that anymore.”

Noland said just keeping track of the total number of visitors to area museums doesn’t tell the whole story because many of those visitors may be from the local community, including bus loads of area school children who take field trips to those facilities each year.

“I’m thrilled that the bed tax revenues are high, but that increase should not be construed as an increase in tourism,” he said.

As a longtime operator of the local Trolley Tours business, Noland noted while there may be some increase in group tours of Marietta, there are not nearly as many of those tours as in the past.

“I used to do at least three tours of the city a day, and the trolley was usually full,” he said. “Now we’re down to about one a day with sometimes as few as five passengers.”

Noland said years ago there were hundreds of bus tours annually, visiting attractions like Fenton Art Glass Company in Williamstown, the Middleton Doll Factory in Belpre and the Rossi Pasta facilities in Marietta. When those attractions closed the number of group tours also dropped off.

But the CVB sees tourism numbers recovering along with the increase in business travel brought on by the oil and gas boom. The bureau attributes some of the increased tourism to recent write-ups in national publications.

“Articles printed in larger publications including the Smithsonian Magazine and Country Living have generated huge numbers of visitor information requests,” said CVB public relations and social media coordinator Christian Hudspeth.

“People are reading about Marietta-Washington County and are eager to experience what it has to offer,” he added.

The annual transient guest tax revenue was on a roller-coaster ride between 2006 and 2011, with up and down fluctuations ranging from one to 10 percentage points year to year, Knowlton said. But the revenue jumped by nearly 35 percent in 2012 and has continued to increase for the last couple of years.

In 2013 the 6 percent tax revenue garnered $447,969 each for the CVB and city.

Although the annual bed tax revenue has been on the rise for the last few years, again thanks largely to the oil and gas industry business travelers, that won’t last forever, Knowlton said.

“It’s hard to predict the bed tax growth for the future, this could last a few more years, but people (in the oil and gas industry) will eventually be seeking more permanent housing,” she said, noting the CVB often receives requests for information about housing availability in the local area.