This is progress.
The Johnston County Tourism Authority says it will encourage its grant recipients to partner with hotels, restaurants and retailers to promote their sales during festivals and other events. That’s welcome news, especially for hotel owners, who pay the room tax that funds the grants that allow Johnston events to promote themselves beyond the county’s borders.
The best purpose of the room tax is to promote Johnston County as an overnight destination, and that’s the promise of the grants that advertise Johnston festivals outside of the county. But the Johnston County Tourism Authority has never tied the awarding of grants to increased room stays, which is to say the grant program lacks accountability. The same can be said, by the way, of other Tourism Authority spending.
But now, the Tourism Authority says it will encourage its grant winners to work closely with visitor-related businesses. They can imagine, for example, an event partnering with hotels on room-and-admission packages. The Ava Gardner Festival, to its credit, already does this. An event could also offer restaurant and retail coupons in goodie bags for event-goers.
This is a worthy experiment, and it will be interesting to see if partnerships lead to increased room stays and higher sales-tax receipts in Johnston.
At the same time, we hope the Tourism Authority will one day require its grant winners to partner with the county’s visitor-related business. And we hope it will make increased room stays a requisite for future grants to previous recipients.
It should not be that hard to measure whether event grants lead to increased room stays. If the Tourism Authority knows, for example, that Smithfield’s Ham & Yam Festival is the first weekend in May, it should be able to look at hotel tax receipts for that period.
The bottom line is this: Hotel owners pay a tax that is suppose to increase their business. So it’s perfectly reasonable for hotel owners – and the Tourism Authority – to expect recipients of those tax dollars to deliver on the purpose and promise of the room tax.