21/09/2021

Superior considers tourism marketing revamp

SUPERIOR, WIS. – With a few months remaining on a tourism marketing contract with Travel Superior, Mayor Jim Paine wants to start fresh with a proposal that is drawing resistance from the city’s Chamber of Commerce.

Paine’s plan would create a public commission to spend hotel/motel taxes to sell the city to tourists instead of leaving those decisions in the hands of a private entity.

“This commission does not prevent any organization from receiving funds as long as it is related to tourism development and promotion,” Paine said at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. “All we’re asking them to do is earn it.”

Opponents say that sounds like the deeply divisive decision the Duluth City Council made last month when it hired a Twin Cities marketing firm over tourism bureau Visit Duluth.

“You see the backlash Duluth got from residents and constituents on what they did,” Superior City Council Member Craig Sutherland said. “We don’t need that in Superior.”

Travel Superior, which is part of the Superior-Douglas County Area Chamber of Commerce, currently receives 70% of hotel room taxes to spend on marketing as the city’s “designated tourism entity.” The organization received about $605,000 from the city in 2019 and $464,000 in a pandemic-hampered 2020.

The remaining 30% of hotel/motel taxes is spent directly by the city on tourism development projects.

Paine’s plan, approved last month by the finance committee, would route that 70% to a “designated tourism commission,” which has met firm resistance from Travel Superior and the chamber.

“We believe that the proposed ordinance is setting up tourism to become a needless political process,” chamber President Taylor Pedersen wrote in an e-mail to members last week. “We do not agree with the idea to change a process that isn’t broken, just to see what happens.”

Supporters of the proposal say the chamber’s membership model leaves out some businesses and parts of town in favor of paid members.

“This is by far the most common tourism promotion system in Wisconsin,” Paine said. “Most of the best tourism destinations use this model.”

Superior has collected nearly $500,000 in hotel/motel taxes through July and is anticipating a $944,000 haul in 2022.

Council members pumped the brakes on the mayor’s proposal at Tuesday’s meeting after adding language that would give the City Council final approval on tourism marketing expenditures. The council will again take up the measure later this month.

Brooks Johnson • 218-491-6496

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