Durango City Council is considering the best way to spend new money being collected from a voter-approved increase to the city’s lodgers tax.
The approved ballot measure allocates 55% of the new tax to support sustainable tourism marketing. Additionally, 20% will fund city transit and 14% will go to arts and cultural organizations, facilities and events. The remaining 11% will be used to mitigate negative impacts of tourism.
City councilors held a study session Aug. 17 to discuss specifics about how the lodgers tax revenue should be spent. They decided to put out a request for proposals to find a third party that could offer greater insight about how best to spend chunks of the revenue for their intended purposes.
Another study session will be held Tuesday to continue the lodgers tax discussion.
“They’re looking for an outside agency to help them determine how best to spend money within those percentages,” said city spokesman Tom Sluis. “Right now, that service is provided by Visit Durango, but I think in terms of best practices we’d like to have an RFP to see if this is the best way to handle the lodgers tax funds.”
The city hopes to move toward sustainable tourism with lodgers tax funding.
“Traditionally, tourism has never included a sustainable component,” Sluis said. “We are one of the first, if not the first, municipalities to incorporate that language into a ballot where the lodgers tax is specifically linked to sustainable tourism.”
In the past, most cities with a large tourism market practiced what is now called extractive tourism – the goal being to bring people into the city without thinking too much about the effects that might have.
“Visit Durango moved the conversation to sustainable tourism, which is essentially to do no harm,” said Mayor Kim Baxter. “The direction that tourism in Colorado is going is to work on regenerative marketing, which manages to actually add to the community and benefit community members. That’s the direction forward, I believe, the council wants to move.”
Baxter said she would like more marketing of events that reflect the character of Durango and the surrounding area.
“We have lots of interesting events in our community because we love them,” Baxter said. “Let’s help these events get marketed, let’s help create more of them, and let’s do it in the non-summer seasons.”
With the ballot measure allocating money toward arts and culture, city councilors must also determine how best to spend that money.
“This is a totally new category for using lodgers tax,” Baxter said. “The city currently has a Creative Economy Commission that helps with arts and culture, and we’re looking at the idea of using them to help decide how to spend this money. … Then we have a Creative District that was formed a year and a half ago and we have to think about how they fit in.”
Tourism mitigation money brought in by the tax is part of the conversation that City Council is holding off on until it can conduct budget reviews.