MARIETTA - An increase in tourists as well as continued growth in the local oil and gas industry have translated to higher-than-expected revenues from Marietta's hotel/motel since the beginning of this year. That's good news for the city and Marietta Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau who currently split the 6 percent bed tax on a 50/50 basis. But it's also great news for area hotels.
"We're definitely seeing higher guest numbers than in previous years-and that includes an increase in business during weekdays," said Lacey Lanning, reservations manager for the Lafayette Hotel on Front Street.
She said the Lafayette normally sees its best tourist-related business on weekends, but this year there have also been many tourists staying through the week.
"We've chalked up a lot of our additional business to the increase in oil and gas industry activity, but there are also definitely more tourists visiting this year," Lanning added.
Last Sunday Dave and Judy Donel from Cuyahoga Falls were visiting the Marietta area with daughter Lindsey Sampson and her friend Ashley Gliha.
"We come down a couple times a year, with the Gold Wing Road Riders Association, as well as on our own," Dave Donel said.
Judy Donel said she enjoys staying at the Lafayette when they're in town.
"We think it's great - this is such an historic hotel," she said.
Shane Vincent, front desk manager at the Comfort Inn on Pike Street, said visitor numbers are increasing there, too.
"We've had a lot of additional business related to the oil and gas industry, and we're hearing this is just the beginning of that movement," he said. "But we also had a pretty good summer with tourists last year, and that business has been a lot better this summer."
The latest revenue report shows total bed tax earnings through August were up by 36 percent over the first eight months of 2011, garnering nearly $238,000 for the city's general fund, and an equal amount for the CVB.
"We knew the bed tax revenue would probably increase this year, but didn't expect it to be that much," said Marietta Councilman Mike McCauley, D-2nd Ward.
City council appropriated $270,000 in hotel/motel tax revenues for the CVB in the 2012 municipal budget. But if the current trend continues through the end of the year, the bureau's total take could be more like $300,000, with the city reaping an equal amount for the general fund.
During a council audit committee meeting last week, McCauley suggested the city could limit the amount the CVB receives from the bed tax to the $270,000 council has budgeted for the agency, putting any additional revenue into the city general fund or using it to promote the city beyond the CVB's efforts.
Councilman Tom Vukovic, D-4th Ward, and chairman of the finance committee, said the bed tax has averaged around $30,000 a month since January.
"This is really good news. We expected to see the $270,000, but (the additional funds) are windfall monies," he said. "Last week for the first time there was just a cursory discussion about whether half of that windfall should continue to go to the CVB or go into the city coffers to pay for services."
Vukovic emphasized no decisions have been made, and much more discussion would have to take place with all parties involved before council would move forward with any plan for the bed tax monies. McCauley agreed.
"It's something I think we need to take a hard look at, considering the city's financial situation," he said. "But this indicates the CVB is helping to bring more people into the area, and we don't want to limit that."
Vukovic noted the city will begin losing revenue from the annual inheritance tax in 2013 as the tax has been repealed by the state legislature, and additional bed tax revenues could help reduce that impact on the city budget. In a news release from the CVB last week, executive director Jeri Knowlton reported hotel/motel tax revenues for the month of August alone totaled $47,328, an increase of 61 percent from August 2011.