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Editorial: Adopt innkeeper’s tax, promote sports tourism

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Youth sports is a growing segment of the tourism industry. Communities such as Columbus are bringing in outside money by being the host city for softball and golf tournaments and swimming meets.

To see if it could cash in on the trend, Franklin commissioned a study to see what the potential would be and what obstacles the city would face.

The study by an Indiana University professor projected that visitors who came to Franklin for youth sports or arts events would spend about $1 million per year on hotels, restaurants and shops. That impact could double or triple if a group worked to attract more events to the city, the report said.

But the study also pointed out two significant problems for the city — cost and hotel space.

Running a promotion effort long term could cost $120,000 per year, and city leaders couldn’t figure out a way to pay for those expenses. Franklin Schools Superintendent David Clendening said, “None of us felt like at this point in time, as a single entity, we could do it, and we needed some further assistance and revenue.”

The other issue was space. The city has fewer than 175 hotels rooms available, which is not enough to host large events. The city would need significantly more rooms if it wanted to host a 40-team softball tournament, for example.

Given the hurdles the city would have to clear to be a major player in this game, Franklin is taking the wise course in not pursuing it alone.

However, a regional approach to promoting sports tourism would be more effective and more likely to pay off. It would reduce competition among cities and increase efficiency. The prospect of the GoodSports youth sports complex in Greenwood further shows the value of not pitting one area of the county against another.

A countywide tourism office could handle the marketing of youth sports and other forms of tourism. It could advertise assets across the county — from Hoosier Horse Park in the south to the GoodSports complex in the north — and events such as WAMM Fest. In addition, it could put potential visitors and promoters in touch with the right people when it comes to facilities and hotel space.

The best funding for a tourism bureau would come from an innkeeper’s tax, which is charged to overnight visitors at local hotels.

Earlier this year, the Johnson County Council discussed adding the tax but deferred a decision on implementing it. One of the arguments against the tax was the question: What does the county have to promote? Sports tourism could be a big part of the answer.

We urge the council to revisit and approve an innkeeper’s tax. Then we could move to the next step of creating a tourism bureau to promote the entire county.

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