A $7 million cut to the state tourism budget is seen as a crippling blow to tourism efforts and counter-productive to those in the industry.
Governor Nixon, faced with slumping state revenues, ordered belt tightening throughout the state. He ordered $430 million to be withheld. The money will be released only if the economy turns around and state revenue rebounds.
The Department of Economic Development chose to cut $7 million from the Division of Tourism . The cut to Tourism and the Missouri Arts Council spared the department’s economic development programs from deeper cuts.
The past president of the Missouri Travel Council , Gary Figgins, says the move discloses a misunderstanding of the impact of tourism.
"Tourism employs somewhere in the neighborhood 290,000 people in Missouri," Figgins says. "Those aren’t jobs that pay $20 to $30 an hour, but they’re good jobs, they’re safe jobs and they’re jobs that are not going to be shipped overseas."
A spokesman for the Economic Development Department says the decision to cut $7 million from Tourism was based, in part, because Tourism has a $4 ½ million budget balance. Figgins counters that that’s a false balance, reflecting money allocated and spent in the last fiscal year. The bills just haven’t come due yet.
"Make no mistake about it, it’s a $7 million cut," Figgins says. "They’re just looking at numbers there that, for one reason or another, they just don’t understand how the advertising purchases are made."
The Missouri Travel Council calls the cut to Tourism inequitable. It contends the cut to Tourism represents nearly 64% of the $11.3 million in withholding requested of the Department of Economic Development. The cut will cause Tourism to drastically reduce advertising as well as hurt efforts to promote the state to group tour operators and other niche markets Missouri attractions rely on.
Figgins says the cut to Tourism ultimately is counter-productive. He points to studies that indicate every dollar spent on tourism returns nearly $50 in visitor expenditures. The Division of Tourism claims it generates $2.46 in state tax revenue for every dollar spent. Tourism ranks second behind agriculture as the top industries in Missouri. The Missouri Travel Council predicts the cut will have dire consequences both in the near and distant future.