BUTLER, Pa., (June 23, 2022): Imagine being told that a financial investment opportunity, in which you’re already participating, could bring more than a 300 percent return over a five-year period. By increasing your contribution, you’re told, you could significantly influence your family’s future financial comfort.
You’re even shown all the success other participants – friends and neighbors – have had with the same strategy. Would you just walk away?
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has done just that with its investment in the travel/tourism industry according to a study recently released by the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association, along with tourism partners throughout the state.
“As travel and tourism rebound from the pandemic, this is really the opportune time for the state to invest in the promotion of tourism,” said Jack Cohen, President of the Butler County Tourism & Convention Bureau. “Pennsylvania tourism has been drastically underfunded for a few years now, but as people gain confidence to travel again, the state needs to step up and compete against neighboring states.”
Pennsylvania has one of the largest tourism economies in the country, but its marketing budget ranks 35th for the 2020-21 fiscal year, according to “Competitive Analysis of Pennsylvania’s Tourism Budget", the report conducted by Tourism Economics.
Additionally, the report shows that budget shortfalls for the five-year period of 2015-19, resulted in $9.7 billion loss of visitor spending which translates to 11,300 less jobs and $679 million of state and local tax revenue never collected. Although the state saved $151.7 million in tourism budget expenditures over that period, the report says, it lost much more in potential revenue.
“In other words,” according to the report, “for every dollar saved on tourism spending in the budget, PA has lost $4.48 in combined state and local tax revenue.” It hasn’t always been that way.
The current budget for the Pennsylvania Tourism Office is $9. million. In fiscal year 2008-09, in the face of a national financial crisis, $29.8 million was budgeted.That’s a cut of more than 60 percent and of those remaining funds just $2 million was permitted to be utilized for destination promotion.
To achieve the lofty returns listed above, Tourism Economics suggest that Pennsylvania’s budget is less than one-third of where it should be – $39 million. Cohen is not exactly sure that figure needs to be that high right now.
“Everyone has had a huge financial hit over the past few years, but travel and tourism is the second leading industry in the state. With Pennsylvania’s location, and maybe even more so Butler’s, and gas prices being what they are, there is an opportunity that we haven’t had in a long time to reach travelers from a 4 to 5 hour radius, to visit our campgrounds, BnBs, and enjoy outdoor recreation activities,” Cohen said.
Although the Butler County Tourism & Convention Bureau, like other local destination marketing organizations (DMOs) such as Visit Beaver County, Visit Washington County, and VisitPittsburgh, has its own budget, an increase to the state’s budget helps it promote the entire state including Butler County to a larger audience which individual DMOs can’t.
“Although a $39 million budget would be optimal, I think a return to what the budget was about 15 years ago – or near there – is appropriate.” Cohen said.