Take a moment and look around. Notice the roads have been more crowded lately? And that it’s “hurry up and wait” for most any table in a local restaurant these days? And more folks are walking around our downtowns? This is tourism at work.

For the 15th consecutive year, the two-week U.S. Kids Golf World Championships is in full swing, bringing a few thousand people to town for golf on 11 Moore County courses.

And once they leave at week’s end, more folks will be coming in for the 119th annual U.S. Amateur at Pinehurst Resort.

What it all means is thousands of visitors — many of whom have returned year after year — and millions of dollars for local businesses and our tax coffers. And yet, year after year, Moore County has been leaving money on the table.

Many communities in the state that have tourism as a large part of their economies charge visitors a 6 percent occupancy tax on their hotel bills. In Moore County, though, the hotel room tax rate is just 3 percent — and not likely going anywhere anytime soon.

A Long-Running Debate

A debate has simmered for several years over whether the county should raise this tax and devote a portion to “product development,” or things that would stimulate and support more tourism locally. The debate for a few years centered around a youth soccer complex in Aberdeen, but the Board of Commissioners specifically rejected that two years ago.

A similar idea got batted around a couple of weeks ago. Officials in southern Moore County expressed an interest in having a higher tax help support their communities, which bear the brunt of supporting visitors when they’re here. Spending the preponderance on marketing — but not on keeping people happy when they’re here — can be counterproductive, they say.

“What I know of these programs is they are creating things to attract people to come here, but it doesn’t support them once they are here,” said Southern Pines Town Manager Reagan Parsons.

Many communities that have the higher 6 percent occupancy tax spend a portion on “product development” or share a percentage with local towns to help support town services that benefit tourists, like signage, traffic improvements and similar enhancements.

A Novel Approach

We’ve said in the past that the hotel tax should be increased, and that hasn’t changed. The current tax generates about $1.5 million. Two-thirds of that currently goes toward marketing and tourism promotion; the remainder goes to tourism-related expenses.

We did not support building a youth soccer complex — and we’re not keen on just giving a chunk to towns to offset expenses. But that doesn’t mean we oppose some new spending for “product development.”

We support putting extra dollars into what keeps this economy strong: golf tourism. But we also like the idea of putting some extra dollars into a “tourism development fund,” from which grants could be awarded. Those grants could sponsor a film festival, a road race, a craft beer showcase or a significant equestrian event.

A fund like that, managed by tourism professionals, could stretch visitors’ tax dollars to expand opportunities for yet more visitors.

Recently, Phil Werz, the local Convention and Visitors Bureau president, said his board “is in no position to raise the occupancy tax in Moore County.” He suggests that county commissioners, who would have the final say, believe people locally are suffering “tax fatigue.” That’s silly because local residents wouldn’t pay the tax; visitors would.

And while you might argue it’s poor form to tax visitors more, the truth is the increase would be negligible — an extra $3 a night on a $100 room bill. No vacation has ever been crossed out because of an occupancy tax.

We can raise the occupancy tax, be creative and support all the varied interests to keep the second largest sector of our economy thriving.

(5) comments

Kent Misegades

If you want more of something, lower its cost. There are hundreds of other communities that offer golf courses, hotels and restaurants and would be happy to host these events if higher taxes drive people away. Lower tax rates always lead to greater overall tax revenue. Higher rates eventually lead to lower total revenue.

Jim Tomashoff

"Lower tax rates always lead to greater overall tax revenue..." says our resident know-it-all. So I guess we should eliminate taxes altogether to yield the highest possible tax revenue? Kent's an ideologue, and so never lets actual historical evidence get in the way of his absolute beliefs. Reagan argued the same thing, the the so-called "laffer curve." By lowering taxes the U.S. Government could actually generate increased revenue while increasing the wealth of all Americans he maintained. Under Reagan the national debt more than doubled. Bush Jr., argued the same thing, under Bush Jr. the national debt more than doubled. Trump argues the same thing, under Trump the U.S. Government has run the second largest and largest annual national debt in our history. Kent, and right-wing libertarians like him, are incapable of actually learning anything.

David Lambert

I look forward to hearing more about how Moore County's public entity-- The CVB-- will serve all of Moore County. Hotel nights create money for the occupancy tax--but it is very short sighted to just get "heads in beds" for existing destinations--whats the long term advantage of developing destinations (throughout Moore County)? Its a stable and thriving long term tourism economy. If we only develop destinations where they currently exist the inequity continues. Every entity should look at their bottom line, but public entities using public funds have a responsibility of fairness. Could you imagine the implications if every public entity had this strategy? Should a municipality only invest beautification areas in certain more wealthy areas of town? What about infrastructure? Should water lines and sewer only be upgraded in certain areas or does everyone deserve clean water and safe wastewater treatment? Of course, the house at the end of the water line that is worth $40K deserves the same water quality as the million dollar homes clustered together. Let me ask this as well.... if the municipality operated the same way, do we think tourists would be turned off by having to go through multiple areas of blight to get to these well developed, well-funded destinations? Of course they would. The Pinehurst destination is what it is due to the incredible efforts of the Village of Pinehurst. And the Village of Pinehurst has been made popular as a tourist destination, in large part, due to tourism development. It is a symbiotic relationship that is worth celebrating. I hope we can "wake up" and cultivate additional relationships with other towns so all areas of tourism and local economies can flourish. The occupancy tax could help that--but I see absolutely no reason for anyone to vote for an occupancy tax increase where their communities would not directly benefit either through investment or by development of substantial and meaningful destination development. If we are going to talk about occupancy taxes--we must talk about how those funds will be invested throughout Moore County and in the communities that support that development. If we aren't going to raise the occupancy tax rate---the same conversation needs to occur.

Phil Werz

I completely agree with your comments and since I arrived as CVB President & CEO on Sept. 4, 2018, I have vigorously and energetically advocated the increase of the occupancy tax to 6% with 2% to be used for tourism product development - but ONLY for projects that promote tourism and have a DIRECT impact and a proven impact on increasing hotel room nights. Cutting grass on a median, adding public safety officers or a sewer project are not logical ideas, nor advance the mission of the CVB. The CVB has a vision for tourism in this area with product development. Yes, we are leaving money on the table and we are talking millions and millions of dollars that are collected with ZERO burden on the residents of Moore County. It's time to wake up and do what's best for the greater good and our citizens to advance this destination.

Barbara Misiaszek

Well,more visitors might actually increase the need for more public safety officers. If the locale looks unkempt it might turn visitors off.Cut the grass when necessary. More visitors will otherwise burden locals in unforeseen ways. Using some of these potential revenues to offset those costs and relieve the burden that will otherwise fall to locals isn't a bad idea.

John Misiaszek

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