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The City of Bishop is preparing its next budget, with a chunk of the funds going to promote the town. However, as with nearly any and every other city and state in the nation right now, Bishop is facing yet another year of lower revenues which means less money for advertising. This has been the same old song and dance since 2008, the beginning of the Great Recession.
Locally, the Bishop Visitors Bureau has kept well above flood waters with diligent spending, a greater reliance on volunteers and the generosity of the community and in doing so has been successful in expanding events and luring new tourists.
Promoting tourism in a small town can be a vicious cycle; of a lag in tourist dollars equalling a lack of funding for promotion which can lead to even fewer tourists. The vicious cycle could continue to a grim end, as some city visitor bureaus have closed altogether to save money, luckily the folks at the Bishop Area Chamber of Commerce and Visitorâ€™s Bureau are doing more with less and the tourists are still coming.
In fact, as other markets cut-back or eliminate their promotions, this could be prime time for Bishop to capture some of those customers looking for a new destination. Tawni Thomson, executive director of the Bishop Chamber made this and other arguments in a funding request to the Bishop City Council prior to budget hearings Oct. 18.
Thomson explained The bureau has received less funding, as has many if not all of the other organizations that ask the city for funding, for the past several years. The funding to the visitorâ€™s bureau by the city has declined by 10 percent a year since the 2008-09 fiscal year, from $176,000 in 2008-09 to $158,000 in 09-10, to $142,000 in 10-11 and $128,000 in 11-12. In the same span of four years, the bureau has been able to reduce administrative costs by 41 percent, through attrition, increased numbers of volunteers and staff reorganization.
Thomson explained that there is little left to cut at $128,000. She said the bureau asked the council for $150,000 this year, instead of another 10 percent cut which would bring funding from the city down to approximately $115,000. The council ultimately decided to compromise and give the bureau the same amount as last year, $128,000.
Yet surprisingly, as the dollars dwindle, the bureau does even more including attending an additional sport or vacation trade show each year revenue declined. Thomson said the bureau visited three travel shows in 2011 â€“ the Fred Hall Show in Long Beach, the Sportsmanâ€™s Expo in Bakersfield and the L.A. Travel and Adventure Show â€“ up from one show in 2008.
She explained there is enough money and volunteer interest to continue to go to these shows again in 2012.
Thomson highlights proof of the bureauâ€™s success with the fact that while less and less people are going on vacations and to lure customers, many hotels have not raised rates, and in some cases lowered them, the transient occupancy, or bed tax has remained â€śfairly stable.â€ť
Some of the funding for the visitors bureau comes from the chamber of commerce side of the organization. While housed in the same building and run all by the same people, the chamber is a different entity from the bureau. Both strive toward the same general goal â€“ promoting tourism which is the life-blood of commerce in Bishop. However, Thomson explained when asking for funding there can be a misconception that the chamber is asking for money, when it is the bureau alone that is asking for funding.
She said it is not uncommon to combine the two entities especially in small communities where commerce evolves around tourism.
However, that is where the connection ends.
The chamber raises approximately $100,000 in combined donations and volunteer hours annually for the bureau. However, the bureau does not raise money for the chamber, which is basically a club of business owners. What the bureau does is advertise the area, going to shows, mailing out literature and other information asked for by interested parties all in the hopes of bringing in tourists. These tourists will, hopefully, spend money in town and contribute to the commerce of the local economy.
In mailings, for example, Thomson said the bureau spent more than $7,000 on postage alone last year. This is information people have asked for, Thomson called it â€śinformation fulfillmentâ€ť not just random mailers, she explained.
For more information about the chamber or to volunteer call (760) 873-8405. To view the cityâ€™s budget go to its website at bishop-ca.us.