The Quad Cities is at a crossroads. We can continue finding excuses as to why it’s not the right time to invest in tourism. Or, we can recognize that tourism is vital for growth and worthy of investment.
Every person who relocated here started as a visitor. Maybe they attended a festival or sporting event, or experienced the abundant art, culture and music. Maybe they visited friends and family, or came for a job interview. Whatever the reason, we have to wow them.
In addition to entertainment and activities, we must showcase the quality of life: the accessibility of homeownership, big city amenities and assets like the Quad Cities International Airport that connect us to the world.
The Quad Cities is the No. 3 best affordable place to live in the United States and the No. 1 place for millennial homebuyers. These are tremendous selling points. But we have to invest in marketing and convert visitors into residents.
Our bi-state city leaders must come together which has proven difficult and stagnated our growth. But one community doesn’t lose because another one wins. When people use the TBK Sports Complex in Bettendorf, Moline hotels are impacted.
I also understand that it’s hard to rationalize spending money on tourism when there are social issues to resolve. Growing tourism — and by an extension — the population, means more money flowing into our community, which provides additional support of the essential services required to fix those social issues.
Consider this: A small tax is included in the daily rate that’s charged to hotel guests. A percentage then goes to the local convention & visitors bureau (CVB) — in our case, Visit Quad Cities. Nationally, the average percentage of hotel/motel tax collected that is reinvested in a CVB is approximately 50%. That means for every hotel occupancy, 50% goes to the CVB.
Locally, we don’t see that level of reinvestment. The average percentage of hotel tax reinvested in the CVB in the Quad Cities region is roughly 17%. This should ignite every community leader into action.
The U.S.’s most visited cities were enthusiastic adopters in tourism marketing. Orlando, Las Vegas and Nashville are prime examples. In 2017, it was estimated that 94 people moved to Nashville each day. But it’s not just larger communities that recognize the importance of increased visitors.
I’m baffled when people scoff at the idea of promoting the Quad Cities as a destination. We should want to be globally known. Something has to change if we want a different future. We have a great opportunity in front of us and now let’s seize it.
Ben Leischner is chairman of Visit Quad Cities Board of Directors and the executive director of the Quad Cities International Airport.