Leaders Discuss Future of Lynchburg's Tourism Program

Lynchburg, VA - City Council approved Lynchburg's budget Tuesday night, and the city's already onto the next challenge: City tourism.

For the last four years, the Lynchburg Regional Chamber of Commerce ran tourism. The city and chamber had a contract, but that contract expires at the end of this calendar year.

The two big issues are how much the city should fund tourism and who should run the program?

When visitors spend a night in a Lynchburg hotel, a part of their bill funds the tourism program in our hometown. In fact, 73 % of the lodging tax revenue helps fund tourism, - totaling $1.3 million in 2012.

Hotel director Todd Swindell says it's worth every penny.

"That 73 cents for every dollar that tourism money helps bring in goes back to reinvesting to bring more tourism in."

That 73 % helps pay tourism staff and markets our hometown attractions through a media campaign to people outside the area.

But, time's ticking. The Chamber of Commerce has had the tourism contract for years, and in December, it ends.

City Manager Kim Payne's thinking up tourism's future in a new, leaner economy.

"How do we honor multi-year commitments in an environment that might see the funding change," said Payne.

Ideas on the table include everything from making tourism a brand new city department, contracting with someone besides the Chamber, or funding it lower than 73 %.

Councilman Turner Perrow says the chamber's doing a good job. But, our tourism needs more accountability.

"My only problem with the tourism program is that we don't know how much benefit we're getting for all the dollars that we're spending," said Perrow.

In a city budget that runs hundreds of millions of dollars, tourism is tiny. But its future will get a lot of attention these next few months.

"There are so many areas in the city that tourism touches that people don't think about," said Swindell.

In fact, tourism is less than 1 % of the city's budget. But its future affects a lot of stakeholders - from hotels to attractions to the restaurants.