Kasich seeks new tourism-funding model

Gov. John Kasich wants to double down on tourism promotions in Ohio by getting the industry essentially to fund its own marketing campaign.

The idea is part of House Bill 489, which completes the transfer of most economic-development functions from the state to JobsOhio and reshapes the Department of Development into the Development Services Agency.

The tourism-marketing proposal would have the state launch a five-year test program in which its tourism marketing would be funded entirely by the growth in sales-tax revenue generated by the industry from year to year.

The bill also would rename the state’s tourism department TourismOhio and establish an advisory board made up mostly of people with five years’ experience in the attractions, lodging, restaurant, transportation or retail industries.

But the biggest shift for Ohio’s tourism industry is how the state would pay to market itself.

Currently, the state’s tourism department gets $5 million from the general-revenue fund for marketing. Under the new model, the state could have as much as $10 million per year to spend on marketing, all generated by the increase in sales-tax revenue from tourism-related businesses.

“I believe (this program) will become a national model for tourism marketing,” said state Rep. Mike Dovilla, R-Berea, a bill co-sponsor, during committee testimony yesterday.

In an interview with The Dispatch, state tourism director Amir Eylon said the new funding formula would lead to an overall increase in tourism dollars. Tourism is a $36 billion-per-year industry, Eylon said, and the state reaped $14 in revenue for every $1 it spent on its major tourism ad campaign in 2011.

If the test program were to go into effect on July 1, the start of the state’s 2013 fiscal year, TourismOhio would get $5 million in “transition” funds from the state’s general fund for that year, Eylon said. The following fiscal year, the marketing budget would be funded solely through the growth in the industry’s sales-tax receipts.

The program would be capped at $10 million per year.

“We’ve found a way of creating additional resources without raising taxes,” Eylon said. “It’s growth-based, and it’s not taking away funding from any other programs in the state.”

Eylon said the TourismOhio model is similar to a program enacted in Missouri in the mid-1990s.

The proposal drew no resistance during committee testimony yesterday.

Kevin Potter, assistant director of the Department of Development, said overall funding will increase for his department-turned-agency in 2013 even though the agency has shrunk in size and scope. He said the nearly $15 million in additional funding for the Development Services Agency was mainly because the agency will cover a $37.8 million increase in debt-service payments for Ohio Third Frontier bonds.