BISBEE — Though they like the idea of another organization marketing Cochise County and building the $331 million tourism economy, the Board of Supervisors recently declined membership in the newly formed Visit Southern Arizona (VSA).
Brent Davis, VSA president and CEO, made a pitch to Supervisors Tom Borer, Peggy Judd and Ann English in a work session June 17, and asked them to join the marketing organization as a founding member for $5,000 and lump all efforts of boosting tourism into one coordinated market plan.
“Tax generated from tourism dollars impacts every municipality in Cochise County. It will be the mission of Visit Southern Arizona to increase those tourism tax dollars. Visit Tucson estimated that for every dollar spent in promoting of tourism, $25 is generated,” said Davis.
VSA is seeking funding from all county municipalities’ bed tax totaling over $1 million to cover an estimated $886,000 budget for marketing, staff and startup expenses, Davis said.
Cochise County is on the low end of bed tax for most municipalities,” he told them. “We’d like to see a one percent increase in bed tax and a bar/restaurant tax added as well.”
Davis reviewed current bed tax rates in county municipalities: Benson, 5.5 percent; Bisbee, 6 percent; Douglas, 4.8 percent; Huachuca City, 1.9 percent; Sierra Vista, 5.5 percent, Tombstone, 7.5 percent and Willcox, 7 percent. Other Arizona cities run from 5.2 percent in Wickenberg, to 10 percent in Guadalupe.
Two percent of the bed tax, or an equivalent from the General Fund, would go to VSA, a 501c6 not for profit business entity, to coordinate a countywide marketing campaign pulling all the players in tourism together, said Davis.
So far, VSA has raised $50,000 since its official designation was granted by the Internal Revenue Service earlier this year and is actively seeking to recruit new members.
Judd sits on the temporary board as the secretary of VSA and said she attended as a citizen, not as a supervisor.
“I saw community leaders, business owners and government coming together and people liked it,” said Judd. “I see it as supporting my community. It’s good to have partners at the table.”
Borer, who said he was happy with the work of the county tourism council, saw it differently and told her, “I see you sitting on the board as a direct conflict of interest.”
Judd responded, “This VSA board position is only temporary. I thought we could take a look at it. I’m here to promote that.”
English approved of more promotion of the county, but agreed with Borer on the forward motion of county tourism council. She noticed most of the members and agencies listed with VSA were from Judd’s district and she wants the whole county represented.
“We have plans with the tourism council. If the council decides to contract with you, that’s something we would listen to,” English continued. “I don’t want to split it up. I wish you well, but I don’t want the county to become a member.”
Borer responded. “Our tourism council is doing a good job. They bring things to the board and we have the opportunity to discuss them. They’re moving in the right direction. VSA may be in conflict with what we are doing.”
County Administrator Ed Gilligan added the council is comprised of dedicated professionals and they are moving forward with a strategy.
However, Davis noted, “We came here because your constituents came together due to frustration with the marketing of Cochise County. These are business people – owners of hotels, motels and restaurants.”
Taking a cue from Davis, Gilligan said he would talk with the tourism council about expanding the range of members. “We’ll take a look at that.”
Current members of the Cochise County Tourism Council include Benson tourism supervisor Bob Nilson, Bisbee tourism manager Ilona Smerekanich, Cochise County public information officer Amanda Baillie, Sierra Vista marketing and public affairs manager Judy Hector, Tombstone international tourism director Jonathan Donahue and Willcox City Manager Caleb Blaschke. Kate Cox is the council’s marketing coordinator, according to the county website.
Borer again voiced his apprehension of a supervisor sitting on the board, but Davis replied Judd was not representing the county as a board member. “She represents herself as a Willcox resident.”
Borer added, “I believe Peggy is OK, but we are supervisors 24/7/365. We don’t get to take off that hat, that’s my opinion. And, it’s public perception. People could see it as a catalyst for personal gain whether that’s there or not. I know her intentions are pure of heart, but we have to look at what’s good for the whole county.”
Judd responded, “I’m not promoting my own interests. I see a general interest growing for this organization. I feel like our tourism council is not really ours; it’s autonomous. This is different. I feel the people’s voices are essential.”