The Town of Mammoth Lakes and City of Bishop have both experienced success in implementing Tourism Business Improvement Districts (TBID), and now it seems the entirety of Mono County may want in on the action as well.
Nichole Farley of Civitas Advisors, gave a presentation before the Mono County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that outlined the purpose and benefits of instituting a county-wide TBID, providing examples of other districts that have undertaken the initiative and reaped the rewards.
For those unsure as to what a TBID actually is, it’s an agreement between tourism-focused businesses (usually hotels but restaurants and recreation can also factor in) to apply an “assessment” to their revenue streams that redirects a small percentage of revenues to a resource pool. That pooled money goes towards marketing and sales endeavors. In short, businesses that rely on tourism pool money in an effort to drive even more tourism to the area. TBIDs have a five-year lifespan, after which the governing bodies can decided to continue for another five years or to dissolve the district.
The Civitas presentation came at the behest of the Board, which became interested in learning more about TBIDs during its planning and budgeting process for FY 2019-20.
Civitas, a consulting firm that specializes in creating TBIDs (or Tourism Improvement Districts/TIDs) is no stranger to the Eastern Sierra; it has served as consultant for Mammoth Lakes and Bishop as both entities navigated the TBID creation and implementation process. Their client list includes both tourism agencies and local governments around the state and country, covering areas from small towns all the way to cities like Las Vegas.
Farley described a TBID as “a really good opportunity to promote economies of scale” that would “really amplify a unified message of what Mono County is and who you guys like to be.” Farley stressed the importance of tourism as a means of economic development, as tourists are “leaving their dollars here and taking their experiences with them.”
To date, there are 177 TBID’s and 2,000 total business improvement districts nationwide, with the potential for expansion into other sectors as well, including restaurants, infrastructure, transportation, and commodities like beer and wine.
Mono County would hardly be the first county to implement a TBID, something that Janet Dutcher, County Finance Director inquired about. Farley gave examples of countywide TBID’s in counties such as Humboldt, Lake, Mendocino and San Luis Obispo.
Farley also went into detail on the impact of a countywide TBID, citing the example of Siskiyou County in Northern California. Since beginning in 2015, Siskiyou has generated nearly $2.5 million for marketing and advertising purposes on a 2% assessment rate on short-term room rentals against an annual budget of $500,000.
Supervisor Stacy Corless expressed concern about “over-tourism” in the area and the negative impacts that it could have on the communities and lands of Mono County.
Farley noted that some locations have ceased promotion during peak seasons.
The fact that the TBID dollars would become marketing resources was a point of contention for a number of the Supervisors.
“There’s a lot of things that would benefit the visitor that we are not doing or doing with general funds,” said Supervisor Bob Gardner, stating “I don’t think we need to create a district to do more marketing … it’s really the infrastructure and the service that I think benefit the businesses. I don’t want to pursue it if it’s going to marketing.”
Supervisors Jennifer Kreitz and Fred Stump agreed with Gardner. Kreitz stated, “I don’t feel like this is the arena that Mono County is looking to raise revenue [in] … expanding marketing isn’t an area that I see a deficit in.”
They also expressed an interest in expanding a TBID to restaurants and other tourism-based retailers, something that Farley explained could become tricky given that there would have be a way to distinguish the businesses that receive more foot traffic from locals as opposed to tourists.
Board Chair John Peters came out in support of exploring TBID options, noting, “There’s a desire for … people in northern Mono County, in Bridgeport to stay open, not just increase business but to keep their doors open a little bit longer.” Peters also spoke of the long-term potential of such a solution and expressed dissatisfaction with the idea that the county shouldn’t at least consider a TBID when Mammoth Lakes was reaping the rewards of one.
Corless agreed with Peters’ stance, adding that “I’m not comfortable telling business that marketing won’t be involved. It would be pretty onerous to have a district for each community.”
“If we don’t move forward with something, then we’re right where we started. We need more outreach.” Peters stated.