State’s tourism industry keeps shrinking

Fewer people have jobs in the tourism industry this year and visitors are spending less money, but Missouri tourism officials are urging lawmakers to put more money into promoting the state as a way to help the economy grow.

A report from the state’s Tourism Commission showed that 281,255 people had jobs in tourism-related industries last fiscal year, down from 287,666 in the 2009 fiscal year. Direct tourism spending also was down, from $7.9 billion in 2009 to $7.42 billion last year.

The overall size of the state’s tourism industry also shrank — from $12.4 billion in 2009 to $11.4 billion last year.

State tourism director Katie Steele Danner said changes in consumer behavior during the recent economic downturn have caused those indicators to drop.

She said visitors are staying in fewer hotel rooms and eating in restaurants for fewer meals when they come to Missouri, meaning that profits and state tax revenue from those transactions are down, too.

“People were traveling, but they were traveling for shorter periods of time and they were spending less money when they did travel,” she said. “So, what we try to do is identify those who are still traveling and those that are still spending and make sure when they spend their travel dollars, they’re spending it in Missouri.”

Danner said the division needs more money to turn the nation’s economic recovery into a stream of visitors to Missouri as people start to get their jobs back and spend more money. She said the division needs a minimum of about $16 million to adequately market the state.

The division’s budget is currently about $13.4 million. Gov. Jay Nixon has recommended that same amount of spending for the coming fiscal year.

The annual report showed that tourism has an impact on local economies throughout the state, and not just in tourism centers such as St. Louis, Kansas City, Branson or the Lake of the Ozarks.

As an example of tourism’s wide economic reach, Danner pointed to the industry’s impact in Worth County— the state’s smallest and least populated. The report said tourism in Worth County employed 26 people and brought in more than $562,000 in tax revenue to the state in the 2010 fiscal year.

Danner said if the tourism division had more money to market the state’s features, the resulting spending by tourists could boost state tax revenues, which could help to close the budget gap.

“Our current tourism budget, though, calls for using a whisper rather than a bullhorn to tout the advantages that we offer,” she said.

The annual report did have some positive news about 2010: the division got a better return on its advertising dollars, both in terms of tourist spending and tax revenues.

Visitors spent about $53 for every dollar the state spent marketing tourism in 2010, up from about $47 in 2009. The report also said the state saw about $3 in tax revenue for every dollar it invested in the tourism division’s budget, up from $2.54 the year before.

Danner also said she’s optimistic the state’s tourism numbers will pick up this year.

She cited a January report from the Global Business Travel Association predicting travel spending by businesses will increase by 7 percent nationally this year.

A state bill allocating funding for the Division of Tourism for the coming fiscal year was sent to the House Budget Committee this past week, said Rep. Thomas Long, R-Battlefield. Long, the vice chairman of the committee that drafted the bill, said tourism officials had spoken to committee members last month, but the committee stuck with Nixon’s recommendations for tourism funding.

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