|By Matt Glynn, The Buffalo News, N.Y.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Feb. 17, 2005 - Tourism leaders in Erie County contend proposed funding cuts for the Buffalo Niagara Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center will only hurt county finances more in the long run.
Tourism industry leaders on Wednesday reacted to possible county budget cuts of $1 million for the CVB and $500,000 for the convention center. They say the reductions would undercut efforts to attract people from outside the county, who in turn spend millions of dollars in "new" money on hotels, restaurants and attractions.
Tourism leaders pressed their points in a convention center meeting room full of hospitality industry employees, to emphasize the ripple effect that leaders say funding cuts would have on the tourism economy.
Richard Geiger, president and chief executive officer of the CVB, said the proposed 36 percent cut in the CVB's budget would likely force the bureau to scale back its tourism-promotion programs and trim its staff, which consists of 28 full-time employees.
A range of organizations and agencies that receive county funds are trying to avert reductions as the County Legislature attempts to resolve its budget woes. Tourism industry leaders made their case based on the events and out-of-town visitors they say the CVB and the convention center help attract, including college sports tournaments, the annual National Buffalo Wing Festival and conventions.
"The CVB and the convention center are revenue producers for Erie County," Geiger said.
Geiger also predicted that the county would fall short of its sales tax projections for 2005 if the CVB doesn't receive its full funding to promote the area to tourists and events.
David Hart, who is chairman of both the CVB's board and the convention center's management board, argued the county should not use hotel occupancy tax revenues to fill other gaps in its budget.
Hart, also the CEO of Hart Hotels, said the tax was created more than 30 years ago mainly to support tourism promotion and the convention center, and he said it should remain that way.
Hart cited Smith Travel Research numbers that said almost 2 million hotel rooms were rented in the county in 2004, generating about $125 million in room revenue. Hart estimated that visitors' spending beyond hotel rooms, including on restaurants and shops, pushed the combined total to at least $350 million last year.
The hotel occupancy tax last year generated $5.3 million in revenue, about $4.4 million of which went to the CVB and the convention center, he said.
Hart criticized legislators for trying to use even a portion of that $4.4 million to solve the county's massive budget problems, instead of plowing it back into tourism promotion.
"What I say to them is, it's a dumb idea," Hart said. "The occupancy tax should not be viewed as a budget item in the county budget."
Hart said his larger goal is to see occupancy tax revenues dedicated to tourism and cultural institutions, so that similar disputes don't arise in future years.
Two members of the county legislature, Demone Smith and Elise Cusack, are members of the CVB's board of directors. They could not be reached to comment on Wednesday.
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