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home : business : business May 3, 2016

3/11/2014 1:34:00 PM
City looks at boosting Chamber funding
By Jim Cornelius
News Editor

Over the past five years, under the leadership of Executive Director Erin Borla, the Sisters Area Chamber of Commerce has significantly upped its game in reaching out to draw visitors to Sisters Country. Now, the City of Sisters is proposing to boost the chamber's efforts by kicking in a higher percentage of hotel room taxes.

Under state law, municipalities are required to provide a percentage of "transient room taxes" (TRT) they collect to a "destination marketing organization" to market for tourism. In Sisters, the room tax is 8 percent and the Chamber receives 33 percent of collections for a total last year of $113,760. According to Borla, the national average runs 45 to 65 percent.

At a joint workshop last Thursday, Mayor Brad Boyd proposed that the city council consider increasing the percentage of room tax contributed to the Chamber to 40 percent.

Additionally, Councilor Chris Frye suggested the city seek an increase in the TRT rate from eight percent to 9.95 percent. Bend's TRT is 10.4 percent and unincorporated Deschutes County assesses eight percent. Portland's TRT is 14.5 percent.

A change in rate would require approval of Sisters voters.

According to Frye's figures, the combination of an increased rate and an increased contribution could mean an additional $75,796 for the Chamber's marketing efforts.

The boost would be welcome. Sisters' marketing is on a shoestring compared to many communities that are often sited as "getting it right" when it comes to generating lots of visits.

Leavenworth gets 70 percent of the city's 5 percent TRT and operates promotions to the tune of $720,000, plus a $100,000 reserve fund for "emergency advertising," according to Borla's FY 2012/13 figures.

Jackson, Wyoming, kicks in $2.5 million to its destination marketing organization. Newport provides support of $180,000.

Borla described the Chamber's marketing efforts in a detailed PowerPoint presentation to the council. Sisters Country has been surprisingly successful in keeping visitors coming to the area, despite tough economic times. Borla noted that TRT increased 23.4 percent over the past five years, an average increase of 4.68 percent per year through the depths of the recession.

A major element of the Chamber's successful marketing efforts has involved leveraging partnerships with lodging establishments in Sisters Country, with nonprofit event organizers, local government, and with Central Oregon Visitors Association (COVA) and Travel Oregon.

Collaboration expands Sisters' reach and stretches its marketing budget to reach the most desirable kinds of visitors.

COVA's Alana Hughson said, "We like all visitors. We particularly like visitors who stay overnight."

Travel Oregon Chief Strategic Officer Scott West described the target visitors as "explorers" - people with active lifestyles who are seeking outdoor recreation, craft brews, culinary experiences and cultural events.

Greg Willitts of FivePine Lodge noted that simply grabbing people who are headed to Central Oregon doesn't work. If they're looking for the kind of experience they can get in Bend, they're going to be dissatisfied in Sisters. Lodgers want to attract people who are specifically looking for the "Sisters experience."

Willitts says his establishment has benefitted from the longer reach and broader impact offered by collaborative marketing efforts.

"I couldn't reach that market alone," he said. "It wouldn't make a splash."

Travel Oregon, COVA and the Sisters Chamber and local businesses have also collaborated to roll out the red carpet for travel writers to maximize the impact of "earned media" opportunities.

The council would need to vote on a proposal to increase the TRT contribution to the chamber, which would cost the city about $23,000 in revenue. There was no demurral around the table on the idea.

Sisters Chamber President Ann Richardson said, "I would just like to thank you all for the vote of confidence."

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