The Hill County Commission Monday decided it will vote Thursday on whether it will approve a county-wide tourism business improvement district to take the place of the former district formed under the auspices of the Havre city government.
Debbie Vandeberg, executive director of the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce, told commissioners Mike Wendland and Jeff LaVoi that the two years the district, referred to as a TBID, and a Convention and Visitors Bureau were in effect, they allowed major advertising campaigns in Canada and neighboring states that brought significant business to the area.
“It gave us a huge leverage to start marketing our community in areas that we could never afford to go …, ” she said. “You couple that (with the state’s and other advertising), all of that partnershipped up together, sends out a stronger message to visitors looking to come here. It obviously has helped. ”
Vandeberg cited increased hotel bookings and much higher rates of Canadians coming to Havre as evidence.
The advertising, primarily print but with some Internet presence as well, has focused on neighboring states like Idaho and Wyoming and on Canada, including a focus on the major market of Calgary, she said.
Four local hotels — The Great Northern Best Western Inn, TownHouse Inns of Havre, Super 8 and AmericInn — have petitioned the Hill County Commission to create the TBID. Those hotels also comprised the Havre TBID.
The state approved TBIDs to allow hotels and motels to charge a fee, used to promote tourism, alongside the state bed tax. The fee is sent to the county along with the hotel’s property tax, and is returned to the TBID board to be used for marketing.
When the city annexed property that included Super 8 and AmericInn, it allowed the creation of a Convention and Visitors Bureau, in which the state returns a portion of the bed tax to the bureau to be used for marketing the area, and a TBID.
With the decision to rescind the annexation and start from scratch — to resolve a lawsuit filed by property owners saying they were improperly annexed by the city — those two marketing entities “went away, ” Vandeberg said.
While the city is again pursuing annexation and the city-based TBID could be reformed under the auspices of Havre once the hotels are annexed, Vandeberg said the hotels want the county to take up administering the district so the marketing immediately can continue.
“It seems like a no-brainer to me, ” AmericInn owner Dave Clausen told the commissioners.
Vandeberg said the TBIDs can be administered by the city or county, although a Convention and Visitors Bureau must be administered by the city.
She said the process is that the participating hotels submit their data to an accountant, who processes the information and sends it to the county treasurer. The treasurer then takes the portion of revenue paid with property taxes assessed from the TBID charges and cuts a check to send to the TBID board, comprising representatives of the participating hotels.
That board must provide an annual budget and business plan to the administering body — the county, if it approves the resolution Thursday.
Vandeberg said that, as was the case when the district was formed in 2010, she invited all hotels and motels in Havre to participate, but none responded to the invitation.
She said after the meeting that once the hotels again are annexed, the Convention and Visitors Bureau also could be reformed.