By Ravalli County TBID Board of Trustees: Marie Christopher, Townhouse Inns, Adele Dicken, Mountain Spirit Inn, Patricia Hatfield, Time After Time B&B, Tex Irwin, West Fork Lodge, Deborah Rogala, Double R Guest Ranch
The idea behind the creation of the Ravalli County Tourism Business Improvement District (TBID) is to bring more people to the Bitterroot Valley for lodging, outdoor recreation, tours, sports and special events. The majority of the lodging business owners in Ravalli County were in favor of the creation of the TBID.
The Montana state law to allow TBIDs passed in 2007. Based on the success other Montana TBIDs were having, several lodging businesses saw the positive impact the TBID could have for Ravalli County. The overall premise of the TBID is to raise funds to effectively market the district, specifically the Bitterroot Valley as a destination. The lodging owners determined this fee would be a good way for us to raise sufficient marketing and advertising revenue.
The Ravalli County Tourism Business Improvement District (TBID) initiative was begun in February 2010 by the Bitterroot Valley Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber hired a consultant who compiled the list of all lodging businesses in Ravalli County. Then the Chamber invited all the lodging businesses in the County to a wine and cheese event to introduce the concept. Steve Wahrlich, CEO of the Chamber in Billings, was one of the speakers; he was instrumental in getting the state TBID law approved. Thirty local lodge owners attended this event, and the consensus was that we should pursue the idea of forming our own TBID.
The next step was to establish a Steering Committee made up of volunteers who owned lodging businesses, or were assigned by the owners to represent them. The Steering Committee focused on getting 60% of lodging owners to sign a petition required by law. Through this petition process, the list of lodging businesses was refined, verified and updated. Eventually, 66% of the lodging businesses signed the petition. With emails and faxes, a total of 70% of the owners approved forming a TBID in Ravalli County.
The County Commissioners passed a resolution to approve the formation of a Tourism Business Improvement District in July 2011. The County Commissioners appointed the TBID Board of Trustees on July 19, 2011. A copy of this Resolution along with a TBID Letter of Notification was sent to all lodging businesses in December 2011, to let these businesses know to charge their customers a $1.00 fee per occupied room night beginning January 2012. The established District includes bed and breakfasts, cabins, guest houses, guest ranches, hotels, lodges, lodging business property management companies, motels and vacation houses. The only excluded types of lodging businesses are RV parks and campgrounds.
Starting in January 2012, lodging businesses began reporting quarterly on room occupancy, and the first reporting form was due Monday, April 30, 2012. In terms of process, we submit a quarterly reporting form to the Bitter Root RC&D (Bitter Root Resource Conservation & Development), which is the TBID’s fiscal agent. In turn, the RC&D provides the room occupancy data compiled from the reporting forms to the Ravalli County Treasurer who adds the TBID fees to the property tax statement. The Ravalli County Treasurer will collect the “pass-through” fees annually, which then go directly to the fiscal agent of the TBID Board of Trustees, which in turn will be used to promote lodging businesses in the Bitterroot Valley.
Based on successes of other Montana TBIDs, the District is expected to improve the year-round economy of our beautiful valley by improving tourism, developing a community brand identity, and more. The TBID will promote lodging establishments to prospective visitors showcasing the valley’s abundant outdoor activities, natural wonders, interesting historical sites, unique shops, restaurants, and the friendly people who live, work and play here.
The tourism industry in Montana is one of the few sectors of our economy that is growing. The TBID trustees will be responsible for determining how and where the revenue is spent. We will research who our visitors are, where they live, and what they read. Our goal is to increase room occupancy for all lodging businesses in Ravalli County. The extra $1.00 per occupied room night will help attract more visitors to the valley. The TBID will not only support the lodging businesses, but it will help support many small businesses in the County.
We, the trustees, are still in the formative stages of creating the organization, writing the bylaws, submitting articles of incorporation, setting up business policies and procedures, formulating the budget and work plan. We have to achieve our official status as a business entity before we can entertain the many options of how to spend the fees.
The lodging facilities that are a part of the tourism industry have experienced relatively steady growth over time. Tourism has impacted industries all over the state of Montana and has contributed to Montana’s economic diversity and is a leading factor in the state’s ability to weather the recent recession.
According to the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research (ITRR), non-resident visitors spent a total of $2.77 billion in Montana in 2011. Traveler spending supports gas stations, restaurants, retail stores, hotels, state parks, outfitters and many other businesses. In turn, travel-related businesses create demand for local professional services, real estate, agriculture products and more which projects a positive effect for the entire economy.
Non-resident travel supports 39,000 jobs in Montana. These jobs employ 7.7 percent of the state’s total labor force, which means that one in every 13 Montana workers is supported by out-of-state travel. In turn the TBID provides another way to fuel the engine of the local economy, without putting the costs on the backs of the locals; tourism is a strong economic force for Ravalli County.
Tourism is a clean low-impact industry. Tourism provides workers’ salaries and benefits, pays state and local taxes, helps fund preservation of natural resources, and historic and cultural treasures. Non-resident visitors generated $276 million in state and local tax revenues in 2011. Thanks to these tax dollars collected, out-of-state travelers reduce the tax burden on residents by approximately $687 per household. Travelers add to the lifestyle many Montanans enjoy by enhancing business and increasing participation for restaurants, shops, special events, festivals, along with, state parks and historical sites. Within each town, lodging facilities and members of the tourism industry are often generous supporters of community causes, fundraisers and events.
Each year, new lodging representative(s) are needed to serve on the TBID Board of Trustees. The term of service is four years. Whether or not you choose to volunteer to be a board member, all stakeholders are encouraged to communicate with their respective liaison members with their ideas for TBID involvement and direction. If you are a new lodging establishment, please contact the board and sign up to become part of this exciting opportunity for the lodging establishments of the Bitterroot Valley.
If you are a lodging business representative with questions, please contact your liaison on the Board of Trustees. Citizens with questions about the Bitterroot Valley TBID, please contact Marie Christopher at Town House Inns of Hamilton at (406) 363-6600.
The TBID hopes to record positive measurable increases in the occupancy for all lodging businesses in Ravalli County, which in turn, will have a positive effect on the entire economy. The Bitterroot Valley has so much to offer Montana visitors. We welcome the opportunity to serve our community.