Lynchburg Chamber, City At Odds Over Tourism Program

Lynchburg, VA - When visitors come to the Heart of Virginia, city leaders hope they'll stay in Lynchburg. Marketing tends to be more effective than hoping, but it also comes at a greater cost.

We're still looking at a deadlock between Lynchburg's Chamber of Commerce and City Hall over who's going to manage the tourism program, and it'll be that way for a while longer.

The city manager compares it to last year's negotiations with the Humane Society. They're in the final year of a five year tourism contract, and the city wants to get the best value. The Chamber tells us they could be losing value every day.

"The Chamber has had the tourism contract with the city for over twenty years," said Beckie Nix, Director of Tourism for Discover Lynchburg.

"It may be good to just test that relationship and see if there's another opportunity out there," said Lynchburg City Manager Kimball Payne.

City Hall will take another two weeks before saying whether it's found anyone who can challenge the Chamber for its tourism contract. In the meantime...

"We understand that there are certain commitments that are made that are multi-year. For example: The Virginia High School League All Star Games is a three year commitment on the part of the community. And so, we have certainly said, 'Yes, absolutely. We will honor that commitment," said Payne.

Commitments like the All Star Games bring in an estimated $8 million in revenue. City leaders are committed to those existing contracts.

The Chamber is concerned with opportunity cost: All those new contracts they'd miss out on if they don't sign up for the usual gauntlet of trade shows and marketing conventions, where registration occurs months in advance.

The two sides appear as far apart as they've been. Right now, tourism gets 73 cents from every dollar of meals and lodging tax. Whatever that number is, that's Discover Lynchburg's whole budget.

"Lodging tax is paid by our visitors, so it only makes sense to use that to invest in marketing our destination to bring even more visitors here," said Nix.

The city prefers a set dollar amount that can be adjusted with each new contract. They also want a term based on the fiscal year so it can be prioritized among other budget items. There are, of course, other issues. But, are there other answers?

"Tourism has grown. It's been a good partnership. It benefits everyone," said Nix.

"There's going to continue to be a tourism program, regardless," said Payne.

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