At a time when hotels need every advantage, Mobile’s hospitality industry just got a big boost, as the state’s first Tourism Improvement District (TID) just became a reality after years of trying.
The man there through all six or seven years of the false starts and hurdles, Mobile Area Lodging Association President Kent Blackinton, praised the decision by the Mobile City Council to approve the special district, after the measure was approved multiple times by a majority of hotel operators in the area.
“We got to a point a couple of years ago where we took it to council, but there were problems with the methodology,” he said. “We went back to the legislature.”
After another vote by the local delegation and approval from the hotel operators, councilors voted to allow the “pass-through assessment” on hotel customers. To approve the assessment, 60 percent of the area’s 62 hotel operators with 40 rooms or more had to sign a petition, Visit Mobile CEO David Clark said.
“This is a big deal for Mobile,” Clark said. “It’s the first city in the state to do this.”
Mobile joins roughly 170 other TIDs nationwide, and the effort took years of collaboration between hoteliers, Visit Mobile and elected officials at both the local and state level, Clark said. The city joins Southern tourism stalwarts like New Orleans, Memphis, Tenn., and Savannah, Ga., which each have a TID, he said.
“The idea is it drives lodging metrics and drives occupancy,” Clark said. “The more people who stay in our hotels, the more spend money at our local businesses.”
Blackinton said the TID adds $1 per room night to customers’ bills. That money will be set aside for tourism marketing, and area hoteliers have set up a special board called the Mobile Area Lodging Corporation to vote on how best to spend the money. The voting board will be made up of two representatives from Tillmans Corner hotels, two representatives from Beltline hotels and two representatives from downtown hotels. The board will also include some restaurant representatives. The city and Visit Mobile will each have a nonvoting, ex officio member, Blackinton said.
“The money will be spent to tell people about Mobile,” Clark said. “It gives us a really unique competitive advantage. It’s good to have marketing dollars to drive attention to all the things we have going on.”
The $1 assessment means the hotels could produce an estimated $1.5 million per year to spend on tourism marketing, he said.
“It’s a lot more money than we’ve ever had to spend in the past,” Blackinton said. “When you take whatever we’ve had, it’s 200 or 300 percent more than we’ve ever had. It will be focused mostly on leisure travel, but there are provisions for capital improvements. It’s going to be significant.”
One of the capital improvements the corporation has in mind is enhancing the gateway into the Tillmans Corner area, Blackinton said.
Tourism marketing can take many forms, he said. Like, for instance, the money could be used for better or more attractive signage.
“We’re looking for a good, comprehensive signage package, or wayfinding package,” he said. “Something for tourism that makes it a better destination.”
The TID assessment goes into effect on July 1 and is set to sunset on May 31, 2025. This gives the program a decent-sized trial run, and if hoteliers don’t think the extra money per room night is worth it, it can go away, Blackinton said.
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