With tourism being such an integral part of the New Braunfels way of life and economy, it is little wonder that the Chamber has played a key role in its maintenance and growth through the years. My monthly articles this year are from the perspective of the Chamber staff in regard to our many roles in the community. With the current pandemic and impact on our overall economy, especially the hospitality industry, it is timely that I can share some thoughts.
I can speak first-hand of the last 32 of the 101 years of Chamber history here on our involvement as a staff in tourism. My first role with the Chamber in 1988 was as the new Director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB). That role in those days included managing the affairs of the then smaller civic center, completed in 1971 with our office practically attached next door. The total budget was $55,000 at the civic center and included personnel (2-3) and supplies. The revenues matched. One of the first “Enterprise Funds” for the city I might imagine.
However, the bulk of my role was overseeing the promotional budget for the CVB, which came from nearly 75% of the room taxes paid by visitors to the community. The tax rate on a room back then was 6%. That generated around $300,000 annually. Today the 7% local rate raised over $4 million in 2019. The CVB portion of the 7% has decreased over the years from 100% to now 50%, with the remaining 35% to the civic convention center and 15% to many worthy local arts and heritage groups for their overnight promotional efforts.
By the way, remember the $55,000 civic center budget in circa 1988? That budget now for this City department is well into the millions of dollars. Thirty-two years and a larger facility makes for many improvements/changes. We could fill a year’s worth of articles on how we finally got the facility expanded. Suffice to say it was not easy and took over six years. One of the benefits of staying around to “eat the sandwich” in my job is being able to witness those that opposed the investment in the expansion that now utilize it often.
I can clearly recall my predecessor Tom Purdum on my first day here in 1988 telling me the biggest challenge I would have with the CVB was having so much to promote. Many communities would love to have that “problem”. I knew what he meant though. Only so much money to promote so many wonderful attractions and businesses. Sooner or later you make someone upset and feel like they did not get mentioned. But, as I tell my staff today, leadership is not a popularity contest.
Going back even further in history for local tourism promotional funds, it was in 1971 that the Texas Legislature passed the room tax. The rate was 2% on a hotel room rental, and that raised around a whopping $7,800 in New Braunfels in 1972. Prior to 1972, it was the Chamber since 1919 that provided promotional funding via membership dues to promote tourism locally. Fifty years! City leaders decided when the local option tax was begun to have the Chamber handle the program. Good idea!
Needless to say, the local hospitality industry has a HUGE impact on our local economy, with thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in impact. All one needs to see on its importance is to witness what is occurring now with the COVID-19 pandemic. Yes, we have in years past had economic downturns caused by floods, droughts, 911, and more, but this current one is the granddaddy of them all impact-wise.
The Chamber has been here in good times and bad. We inform, advocate, and PROMOTE. In the days and months ahead, we will be providing our expertise and guidance to assist New Braunfels recovery. The hospitality industry will be one of the last and most important one’s impact-wise to come back, and they will need our support. Your Chamber staff and volunteers will be there every step of the way.
President & CEO