The Morel of the Story

I have had the pleasure to live in various places across Missouri, but during this time of year, I admit I miss my North Missouri years.  Our spring ritual included an annual morel mushroom hunt.  Not just a small hike to favorite areas known to produce bountiful harvests.  I am talking about a spring hunting ritual that a large, coed, multi-generational group of us enjoyed.

One year I believe there were more than 30 of us.  Those hunts provided some of the best social gatherings in my life.  And today, as each spring approaches, I realize I had taken those morel mushroom hunting experiences for granted.

A stretch perhaps, but it is the whole “being taken for granted” part of the story that leads me to the real purpose of this blog entry. In this new role as the Director for the Division of Tourism, I have to admit I am astonished at how much time we in this industry spend to make a credible case to our public bodies to support tourism with sustainable dollars.

I hope that as debate continues, a cautionary approach will be embraced by those who, in these difficult economic times, are naturally looking at major cutbacks in all areas, including promotion.  What they may not understand is that marketing is an essential net generator of revenue and profits to the organization, not a cost.   There is a value to marketing.  They spend a lot of their time fundraising in order to market themselves to voters.  But our state’s roller-coaster funding of the tourism division’s marketing efforts is not well understood, nor amplified by those who are supposed to be the very champions of the cause, who may in fact be taking the tourism industry for granted.  Sort of like how I did not appreciate the success of our annual morel hunts.

Today, we in the tourism industry are attempting to demonstrate to the legislature the limited amount of public funds invested in tourism generate a positive return on the investment in tourism promotion.  Tourism in Missouri is big business—employing nearly 300,000 people—but it’s also small business. We work closely with small business owners across the state who have made Missouri the Heartland’s top vacation destination.

The Missouri travel industry is not an emerging industry sector in Missouri, it is a deeply rooted and established industry comprised of transportation, lodging, food services, entertainment and retail.  Missouri travelers spent an estimated $7.9 billion in FY09.  HOWEVER, when indirect and induced expenditures are added, the economic impact is $12.3 billion!  The state of Missouri receives $2.54 in state tax revenues from every dollar invested in the Division of Tourism’s budget.  And, for every $1 Missouri invests in marketing tourism, $46.81 is returned in visitor expenditures.

As I said before, the tourism industry supports more than 300,000 jobs in Missouri – double the entire population of the City of Springfield.

So for perspective, if Missouri Tourism were a unified corporate entity, its annual revenues would exceed those of Monsanto.

It’s “really” big business in our state.  And it represents thousands of small businesses all across our wide Missouri.

So, back to the underlying connection of this entry:  What happens when you stop looking for mushrooms?  You miss the chance to enjoy eating them.  And to take the morel example a bit further, you are more likely to find them where you found them before.  But you have to keep looking for them.

What happens when you stop marketing?  Just ask Colorado, or even Arizona.  A new study commissioned by the Arizona Tourism Alliance links cuts to tourism marketing in the state with declines in visitation and millions of dollars in lost tax revenue.  According to the study, Arizona’s tourism industry lost 17,000 direct tourism jobs and 30,000 total direct and indirect jobs, as well as $2 billion in annual direct visitor spending and $167 million in annual direct state and local tax revenues since 2007.

These are extremely difficult decisions. We want the traveling public, members of the legislature and financial decision makers, and everyone in the tourism industry to know we are committed to working with them as we navigate these challenging economic times.

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