City Joins Tourism Zone

After months of stops and starts, the City of Sturgeon Bay has finally joined the Door County Tourism Zone.

The action is a relief for city lodging establishments, who stood up and urged the city to resolve the issue immediately when the Door County Visitor Bureau (DCVB) determined it could not continue to promote businesses in communities that are not members of the zone, as it would be a violation of the state statute enabling the room tax.

The DCVB receives the vast majority of its funding from room tax dollars overseen by the Tourism Zone Commission (TZC), which dictates that those funds only be used to promote zone communities. Since the room tax dollars are intricately woven throughout bureau marketing programs, it became untenable to continue to find ways to include businesses in non-zone communities.

That would have been devastating to city businesses that garner significant referrals from the DCVB Web site and presence in its visitor guide.

With the city on board, it now appears all 18 Door County municipalities will be members of the zone next year, a coup for both the commission and the DCVB. When room tax discussions began, many said all the peninsula’s municipalities would never come together under one umbrella for tourism purposes, but DCVB President Dave Eliot said it proves peninsula communities can come together if people work hard to communicate.

“It makes me happy and it makes my job a whole lot easier,” said Jack Moneypenny, President and CEO of the DCVB. “It’s just a huge step forward for Door County.”

Sturgeon Bay’s business and lodging community stepped up to put pressure on the City Council to join the zone this fall, which Moneypenny called a “a great demonstration that there is strength in the people.” He praised the City Council for listening and understanding the issue and moving swiftly to make it happen.

Moneypenny and the DCVB staff no longer has to use the “inside the zone, ouside the zone” terminology. “We can bring travel writers up here and truly showcase all of Door County now,” he said with a mix of relief and excitement.

For Sturgeon Bay to join the zone, an agreement was reached to help the Sturgeon Bay Visitor Center make the transition from its former funding model, which was heavily reliant on the Sturgeon Bay room tax.

The SBVC has relied on funding from the city’s four percent city room tax for more than a decade. Now that the city is in the zone, room tax collections must go to the DCVB.

The city is expected to generate more than $300,000 annually for the bureau with its new 5.5 percent rate. To help the SBVC survive, the bureau decided to collect the city’s room tax dollars and designate them for dispersal back to the 18 municipalities in the zone for individual community marketing. The money will be dispersed in proportion to each community’s room tax collections. For example, if a community’s room tax collection represented 15 percent of the zone’s total collections in 2007, it will receive 15 percent of the room tax dollars collected in Sturgeon Bay.

Each municipality must designate the marketing arm they will use to manage the funds, said TZC chair Bob Kufrin, and each of those marketing organizations will be required to develop a budget and program of work they will use the dollars for.

“It’s more than just giving these community’s money and letting them spend however they like,” Kufrin explained. “They will be given the same accountability for the money that is asked of the visitor bureau.”