By Brian Sherman for The Island Eye News
The Isle of Palms ATAX Task Force, appointed in February, completed its job May 24 after six meetings, putting together recommendations for the City Council that won’t make any immediate changes in the way IOP distributes the 2% tax the state collects on island short term rentals. The Task Force, headed by Council Member Rusty Streetman, did leave the door open to eventually reduce the amount of money sent to its current destination marketing organization, the Charleston Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, a haul that is expected to exceed the $800,000 mark during the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2022. Members of the Task Force developed three recommendations at the May 24 meeting, following a presentation by officers of the newly-formed IOP Chamber of Commerce, which would like to be a DMO and have control over at least a portion of the city’s accommodations tax funds. At its June 28 meeting, the Council will consider: requesting more accountability and transparency from the CVB; supporting the IOP Chamber as a DMO alternative in the future; and advocating for changes in state law to reduce the size of the 30% fund and give municipalities more control over how the money is spent. Though the vote on the recommendations to the Council was unanimous, not every member agreed with exactly how the Task Force should proceed. For example, Sam Parris of Wild Dunes Resort referred to the CVB as “a fantastic organization” and said the best path forward would be to “repair our relationship with the CVB.”
“We need to sit down with the city, the Chamber and the CVB and see how that works out,” he said, adding that he didn’t think the Chamber “was ready to handle $800,000.” “I don’t agree with staying the course with the CVB,” Ray Burns, chair of the IOP Accommodations Tax Advisory Committee, countered. “Putting them on notice and asking for more transparency – we’ve been saying that forever.” “I recommend we wean off the CVB, but not a complete split,” said Randy Walker of Dunes Properties, who suggested that the city gradually reduce the amount of 30% money directed to the Convention & Visitors Bureau. “The money going to the CVB needs to change. We need a competitive atmosphere.” Curtis Kay, who owns rental property on the island, asked how much money might be directed to the Chamber if it became a DMO for the city, but Streetman said that part of the equation is not the Task Force’s job. Following the May 24 meeting, Treasurer Sandy Stone said the Chamber would support its non-tourism activities through dues but would like to receive approximately $120,000 a year in accommodations tax money to promote its targeted efforts to bring visitors to the Isle of Palms. “What we’re looking for is assistance in developing and building our website and monthly support of the website and social media directly related to tourism,” he said. “That’s a round number right now, but it should be around $120,000 annually.”
Vice President Ryan Buckhannon said the CVB was not giving the Chamber any money “directly” but was “helping fund our website.” During their presentation to members of the Task Force, Chamber officers highlighted their plans to attract visitors through experiential rather than traditional marketing efforts. “We know that effective tourism isn’t just about heads in beds. It’s about creating lifelong experiences for guests that keep them coming back year after year,” President Katrina Limbach said. “It’s really about how they make memories with their family and friends.”
Limbach told the Task Force that the Chamber’s website, being developed by the marketing firm Blue Ion, would be launched in late summer or early fall of this year. The Chamber also is planning to produce an Isle of Palms Guide, both in print and online; produce professionally managed and tracked ads through Google pay-per-click and Google Analytics; print ads in high-profile locations; and professionally managed social media platforms “enhancing the island lifestyle.” She added that the Chamber intends to partner with the city and other organizations on civic and beautification projects and establish partnerships with other DMOs in the area. Limbach said the Chamber would hire more than one marketing agency to help attract visitors to the island.
She pointed out that the Chamber, which launched its membership drive in late April, has raised approximately $30,000 so far. In addition to Streetman, Walker, Kay, Burns and Parris, local resident Sara Vega and restaurant owner Bret Jones also served on the Task Force.
The accommodations tax comes from the 2% tax the state charges on short-term rentals. Counties and municipalities can put the first $25,000 plus 5% in their general fund. The rest goes into two pots – 65% that they must spend for tourism-related activities and 30% that goes toward advertising and other methods of promoting tourism. Government entities must choose a destination marketing organization to handle this job.