1.) For every hotel tax dollar that the City of Austin uses to promote tourism and hotel activity, it generates many multiples of that amount in city tax revenues and economic activity for Austin businesses, including over 50,000 jobs and $6 billion impact to the community at large. The Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau (ACVB) is tasked to promote hotel and tourism activity within the City of Austin. There are now over 31,000 hotel rooms to fill in Austin, with an additional 4,500 rooms slated to come on line within the next three years. Yet, the Austin CVB receives the lowest amount of local hotel tax funding of all major Texas cities to promote Austin as a destination for group and convention activity. The amount of local hotel tax funding for marketing that the Austin CVB receives from the hotel tax is 57% below the average amount of funding that is provided to CVBs within the cities that we compete with nationally for convention and group activity.
QUESTION: Do you support working to amend the Austin City Budget in future years to try to bring Austin CVB’s local hotel tax funding to a more competitive level with the cities we compete with throughout Texas and nationally for convention and group activity?
Tourism and Conventions are critical elements of our economy. I certainly support appropriate funding for the CVB so it can continue to provide the best service necessary to promote Austin. An increase in funding is an investment in the future and potential for future dollars to come into the city. Unlike other investments, we see a very real return dollar for dollar when the CVB is able to attract more events, conventions and tourism to the city. Better communication among the CVB, AHLA, DANA, and GARA along with city staff and elected leaders will help us evaluate our local needs. We can determine what level of funding should be in our budget and how to prioritize future initiatives through the HOT allocation and formula for distribution. This is the level of attention Austin needs from its next mayor. We must ensure there are policies in place that support all of our industries and economic sectors to maintain our vibrant economy. That can take the form of increased funding or regulatory changes to target areas that impact our night time economy.
During our special events, we see our basic city services stretched thin when thousands of people are downtown. During big events I have seen and we have heard from APD, city staff and venue owners that things can get out of hand. We should continue the conversation about how best to handle the resulting factors associated with our success. I would like to propose creating an entertainment license whose purpose would be to ensure our venues are all safe, responsible and compliant while streamlining the permitting administrative process and adding consequences for habitual public safety violations. This would mean that instead of getting multiple permits (sound permits, fire inspection, etc,), there would be one, and the permit would be good for two years. An entertainment license would create a better environment downtown year round. Since we close down 6th Street on weekends, we should program it with street performers like you see in pedestrian areas in other culturally vibrant communities. Creating food truck courts on the cross streets are another possibility to help abate alcohol intake and create more opportunities for our growing food truck culture in Austin. This type of activation would increase safety, promote better circulation and ensure the right level of interaction. I commit to regularly meet with the Austin Hotel and Lodging Association, the Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association, the Texas Bar and Nightclub Association, the Greater Austin Restaurant Association, and the Red River Cultural District so that Austin can remain a successful tourist and convention destination.
It is imperative that the City of Austin has a state of the art convention center that can successfully compete in the global convention and trade show market. The current Austin Convention Center, now in its 22nd year of operation, will require constant capital investment in order to remain competitive. In addition, the Austin Convention Center Department is currently engaged in developing a Long Range Master Plan that will provide a structure for the next 20 years. Based on the growth and success of the Austin market, the Long Range Master Plan likely will recommend a major expansion of the Austin Convention Center. Based on the limited land options in and around the current facility, expansion may require big changes to the neighborhood, including relocation of historic buildings and possibility of closing or relocating streets that may significantly change the look of downtown.
Tourism is very important to Austin and its economy and Austin needs to be competitive with other cities for convention and group activity. The Austin market is currently underserved with hotel rooms and the additional hotel rooms coming on line will make us more competitive (as we are already seeing with future bookings) with cities that have been able to offer greater contiguous options for convention visitors. But the various elements of being competitive take many forms. Our current hotel room demand, intermittently weighted towards special events, requires a level of room supply and restaurant capacity that at other times should be filled with increased convention and group activity, and this effort should be supported. Further, I believe the mayor’s office and its power to convene could be used to focus effort and attention on expanding and growing the leisure travel offerings, activities, and events in this city so as to increase hotel, restaurant, and hospitality demand during the “other than” convention and special event driven shoulder seasons. I would consider providing greater support in the future if necessary to ensure our convention center, visitor bureau, and related capacity are competitive.
It sounds compelling, I would definitely entertain the idea, lets also talk about how we can let those that come here for conventions and tourism know that we are working on an all of the above plan to solve the city’s traffic crisis so that they can feel confident in their ability to get around in an timely manner when they are here.