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Visit Quad Cities leaders are pleased that the buzz is starting to spread about the effort to create a Quad Cities Tourism Improvement District (TID). “We began this conversation in November 2019 because Visit Quad Cities challenged itself to be thinking about how we create more revenue opportunities to build our base while we tackle increased visibility and attention for the Quad Cities,” Visit Quad Cities CEO and President Dave Herrell told the QCBJ recently. “I feel particularly good about the positive response and energy around this idea.” It won’t be easy to accomplish, a group of nearly 50 Quad Citians were told at a Wednesday, March 30, meeting hosted by the regional tourism organization Mr. Herrell leads. The process to create a special district to boost tourism investment is difficult to navigate. But the payoff could be dramatic from increased visitors and overnight stays that would be generated in this region, Tiffany Gallagher, the vice president of operations for Civitas, told the crowd at Moline’s TaxSlayer Center. Civitas, one of the nation’s leading special district consultants, has helped guide more than 100 of the 194 TID districts that have been created in 19 states across the country. Ms. Gallagher is considered a national expert on TIDs. Under a TID, Ms. Gallagher said funding is raised through industry-imposed taxes and fees on hotel/motel stays. In that way, it is like a bed tax, with one key difference: New dollars raised from a new TID assessment – and added to guests’ bills – must go to the district and cannot legally be diverted to other government uses. According to Ms. Gallagher, lodging owners collect TID room charges from guests and pay them to local governments, which then remit the funding to the designated destination marketing organization, for example, Visit Quad Cities. That process, Ms. Gallagher said, ensures a level playing field, with no free riders; transparency and reliability; and passes the costs through to customers. The process also calls for renewal votes so if hotel/motel owners aren’t happy with the arrangement they can end it. Given that Civitas reports a 98% renewal rate for TIDs, Ms. Gallagher said “We know that they work.” Creating a TID already is a long, complicated process. It will be even more so in a region that straddles multiple municipalities and two states – neither of which have passed laws to enable its creation. Local governments also must hold public hearings and vote on the district. And before any of that can happen, hotel and motel owners must sign on, a TID steering committee will need to be formed and stakeholders will have to create a plan. But the effort will be worth it, local leaders say. “What’s both intriguing and daunting about the TID strategy is that it’s clearly becoming a delineator between ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ in destination marketing,” Kai Swanson, board president of Visit Quad Cities, told the QCBJ. “Communities that have implemented TIDs have essentially poured jet-fuel into their marketing tank. With a little foresight, I see the Quad Cities launching a concerted TID strategy that puts us at the front of the pack,” he added. “What’s a bit daunting is knowing that these same conversations are already underway in some of our competitor destinations. This is one pack I’d rather be at the front of.” If the Quad Cities wants to do that, Ms. Gallagher said in March, it had better hurry. The Illinois cities of Peoria and Rockford, which compete directly for QC tourism dollars, already are exploring TIDs. “There’s work ahead to make this happen, certainly,” Mr. Swanson said in an interview. “But I have to ask as a person who’s been in this community for nearly six decades: ‘Isn’t it time?’ We talk endlessly about the kind of bi-state, regional cooperation that can unlock the full potential of this amazing destination. Here we have an idea that appears by all accounts to be the lowest of low-hanging fruit. It’s time the paddlewheel hits the water: full steam ahead.” It’s also critical to the effort that Visit Quad Cities has been “open and transparent with our hospitality partners on this exploration,” Visit’s Mr. Herrell said. “The Quad Cities Lodging Association has been at that table, and we have briefed them every step of the way since 2019.” Visit Quad Cities will have additional discussions and one-on-one meetings with hospitality owners/operators over the next several months. “We want perspectives and input but also ask that everyone keeps an open mind,” Mr. Herrell added. “This is about the long game for the Quad Cities and there must be a sense of urgency because every community and every state is pushing to compete as we work on economic recovery. We know that it will be FY24 before hotel/motel tax revenues get back to FY19 levels due to the largest system shock in our world’s history for tourism. But we cannot stand still, or we will get left behind.” “It will be important to deliver the message to stakeholders that the region must look for alternative sources of funding for destination marketing and business development,” he said. “It is an investment that will get reinvested to create more opportunities for further revenue creation.” “We know that we can do more in the tourism space but without having the resources to be relevant and competitive when we have a hotel room supply/demand challenge in our market is hard,” he added. “The investments required through bid fees and inducements is increasingly competitive in our industry and potential visitors and customers are getting bombarded by increased messaging daily. Our sales and marketing funnel, advertising, and community image building trajectory must have fuel just to sustain business let alone grow it.”