Despite ‘worse-case scenario’ projections, tourism dollars keep coming in

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CLAY COUNTY – The Tourism Development Council discussed the effects of COVID-19 during its latest meeting on May 20.

The last TDC meeting was held on March 11 and at that point, the majority of Clay County was open for business but unbeknownst to the county, just days away from the coronavirus shutdown. The shutdown has begun to ease as restaurants and businesses open back up with new rules and the TDC’s meeting was the first time the council was able to discuss the virus’ effects on tourism dollars.

“What we’ve prepared for you is a worst-case scenario for the entire fiscal year and where that put us was at $579,714 for the year for bed tax collection which is a significant cut to the budget,” tourism director Kimberly Morgan said. “We were running 17% ahead and we [have now] made a 62% cut with that number.”

Morgan said the good news is that the April bed tax collections, which actually covers March, were $89,000. That puts the TDC $34,000 ahead, according to Morgan. While the collection lines for April, May, June and July are listed as zero as a precaution, the collection dollars are already more than zero.

This means the bed tax collections have already exceeded the worst-case scenario, Morgan said. That doesn’t mean the county’s tourism numbers are in the clear.

“For the fiscal year, we cut all travel, any specific promotions that we’re doing, any remainder of the specialty items...of any of that budget that’s left,” Morgan said. “We cut familiarization tours significantly in this fiscal year and then we’re also foreseeing that there will not be a carry forward in the next year’s budget for the grant line time.”

Costs associated with training, operation supplies and other non-essentials were cut as well. Expenses related to tours were cut as well. All of these cuts were made in an effort to keep staff and marketing around as opposed to laying off staff and cutting marketing costs. Marketing has, however, been delayed, Morgan said.

The Atlanta Parent magazine is one place Clay County’s tourism dollars are put into for marketing. Instead of marketing in the month of May, marketing was pushed back to a target of late summer. Morgan cited the coronavirus as a reason to push marketing back. People aren’t necessarily traveling right now but later this summer, they could be, which is why it makes sense for marketing dollars to be moved to months later in the year.

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