Beaches seek to save for promotions

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To prepare for recovery from major storms, mayors of New Hanover County’s three beach municipalities want flexibility to save annually allocated money dedicated to marketing.

The room occupancy tax, levied on temporary stays in rental properties and hotels and the source of the marketing revenues, would feel a hit if disaster struck and prevented the communities from recovering visitors, said Carolina Beach Mayor Dan Wilcox.

“In the wake of a really bad disaster, we lose most of our revenues, if not all of them. We won’t have any revenues the following season, not only to promote our beach towns, but also to let people know that we’re fixed up and we’re open again,” Wilcox said.

The request is the latest installment in an ongoing discussion among New Hanover County Tourism Development Authority board members about each beach town’s ability to save a portion of the room occupancy tax collections vested to each community, but earmarked for promoting the destinations. The latest proposal would enable the beaches to save up to 20 percent of their annual marketing allotment for five years, essentially creating a reserve of a years’ worth of spending.

The authority currently budgets a 25 percent emergency reserve annually, but the funds do not accumulate year-to-year; instead, they are rolled over into the following year’s budget. Building up significant savings for emergencies is the fiscally responsible thing for the beach communities to do, Wilcox told the board. Wrightsville Beach Mayor Bill Blair, who was not at the meeting but involved in earlier discussions about the proposal, agreed.

“In the event that we have a hurricane that basically closes the beach, that means that the ROT generation of funds stops.  . . . You need to have some money so that, as the beach gets back on its feet, we have the ability to advertise that we’re back in business,” Blair said in a March 25 phone interview before the meeting.

Some board members voiced concerns that diminished marketing efforts could impact tourism. New Hanover County Board of Commissioners Chairman Jonathan Barfield Jr. said more money should be spent on marketing, not less.

“I feel like we’re already in a weak position when it comes to marketing. If anything, we need to find ways to increase our resources coming in before we refigure the marketing funds we get,” Barfield said.

Wilmington and Beaches Convention and Visitors Bureau President and CEO Kim Hufham warned a cut in marketing could bring fewer visitors, and thus, less income through the room occupancy tax rolls.

Blair said he doubted the reserved funds would cause a noticeable decline in visitors to the area.

“That does take away some of the money from your operating account, but I don’t think it’s dramatic enough to affect anything,” Blair said.

The board decided to table the motion after almost an hour of conversation. A subcommittee was created to meet and hash out concerns about the proposal before the board resumes the discussion at its next meeting May 27.

email miriah@luminanews.com

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