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What Room Tax Can Do for All of Us

“We already have too many people here. Why would we raise room tax to increase marketing and bring more of them?” 

That’s a question I’ve heard dozens of times throughout the past year as I’ve made the case for increasing our countywide room tax. My short answer is this: Room tax is about much more than marketing, and it always has been. 

Yes, there will be more money for marketing, but if the Door County Tourism Zone Commission and Destination Door County (DDC) stick to the new vision, what that marketing means can be something different than in the past. Beyond marketing, there will be much more money for many things that will improve the lives of locals and visitors. 

Many have argued that more money should be pulled from marketing. That’s not a choice we have. Wisconsin state statute requires that no less than 70% of room-tax collections be spent on marketing and tourism-related activities and infrastructure. The remaining 30% goes to the municipalities to spend on anything they choose.

An increase in room tax from 5.5% to 8% will produce an additional $700,000 each year for Door County municipalities. That’s $700,000 that can be reinvested in roads, public transportation, broadband access, affordable housing, sidewalks, bike lanes, emergency services, buildings and our parks. 

In addition, DDC has pledged to send 19% of its overall budget (approximately $1 million) to the municipalities and the local business agencies that were previously funded by these local municipalities: the Sister Bay Advancement Association, Jacksonport Business Association, Baileys Harbor Community Association, Door County North, Egg Harbor Business Association, Southern Door Business Association, Fish Creek Civic Association, Washington Island Chamber and Destination Sturgeon Bay. 

In 2021, our collective municipalities invested more than $450,000 in our local business associations. DDC’s pledge relieves some of that financial burden, potentially freeing up funds for other purposes, if municipalities so choose. The net gain to our collective municipalities is $1,150,000 dollars annually ($700,000 in additional room-tax dollars, plus $450,000 of contributions to local business associations). 

In addition, DDC has also committed to investing an additional $300,000 back to our municipalities to help offset the costs each spends on tourism-related expenses every year, such as playgrounds, boat launches, park maintenance, etc.

The increase in room tax presents our municipalities with opportunities to make the lives of locals better. It gives municipalities an opportunity to work together and collectively fund solutions for many of the challenges we face today, such as public transportation, an affordable-housing initiative or a broadband cooperative to bring fiber to every Door County home.

But that’s not all that can be done. 

By rethinking how we promote tourism, we can do more. 

The 70% of room-tax dollars that goes to DDC absolutely has to be spent on marketing and tourism-related infrastructure; state statute requires it. And despite the recent tourism boom, it’s important to remember that before the room tax was adopted, we were begging for more visitors. As we learned after previous tourism booms in the ’90s and early 2000s, complacency leads to crisis. 

Door County Pulse Podcasts · The Future of Room Tax and Envisioning the Possible with Dave Eliot

With the room-tax increase, DDC’s budget will grow by $1.8 million, going from $3.4 million to $5.2 million. There are many ways for that money to be spent on things that attract visitors, while also helping to preserve and advance our community. Those two efforts are not mutually exclusive. 

Rather than view an increase in room tax as something that will put more money into marketing and bring more people here, let’s look at the opportunity that an increase in room tax provides for our community. 

Here is a short – and certainly not all-inclusive – list of some things that DDC could invest in that would qualify as marketing or tourism-related infrastructure that would also benefit our community. 

• $75,000 toward seasonal-workforce recruitment – not just ads, but a program that goes to colleges and recruits

• $500,000 for public transportation for five years

• $20,000 to each state park’s Friends group to work on trail preservation and signage

• $150,000 granted to municipalities for local public transportation such as shuttles to relieve traffic burdens 

• $100,000 in cooperative marketing for charities

• $100,000 in grant money for municipal tourism infrastructure projects

• $200,000 for broadband access for visitors and visitor centers

• $25,000 for visitor-information signage 

• $100,000 for additional electric-car chargers

• $25,000 for high school/college internships in the tourism industry 

• $30,000 for boat-launch improvements and/or water-access improvement

Door County has been a world-class tourist destination for more than 100 years. Its success is a result of a community that strives for excellence and has a history of finding ways to constantly improve and reinvest in itself in order to preserve the heritage of its people and the natural wonders of its landscape. 

Fourteen municipalities have enacted the new room-tax ordinance, and the remaining five are considering adopting the increase in the next couple of months. Room tax will increase on Jan. 1, 2022, and with that will come not a massive increase in tourism marketing, but a generational opportunity to work together to reinvest in ourselves and address our greatest problems.

It’s an opportunity to move forward, together.