Beaufort News

More oversight of tourism-marketing spending needed, local leaders say

The Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce may soon have to comply with new financial reporting requirements to show local officials how it spends hundreds of thousands of tax dollars it receives as the region's primary tourism marketer.

Though the chamber appears poised to retain its title as the region's "designated marketing organization" after its board voted not to spin off the Beaufort, Port Royal & the Sea Islands Visitor & Convention Bureau, Beaufort County Councilman Paul Sommerville of Lady's Island said local officials are forging ahead with improving accountability.

"Not only do we think that's still a conversation worth having, we're having it," Sommerville said. "We haven't done a good job of oversight. We just haven't, and that doesn't reflect poorly on the DMO; that reflects on us."

Sommerville, Beaufort City Councilman Mike Sutton and Port Royal town manager Van Willis recently formed a committee to develop new financial reporting requirements for the region's designated marketing organization, which is entitled to an automatic share of hospitality- and accommodations-tax collections. The money must be used to promote tourism.

The committee's proposal would require the chamber to provide an annual audited financial statement, list how much it spends on marketing and calculate the estimated economic impact of local events lasting more than two days.

Sutton said such changes are long overdue.

"We've been talking about this since I joined council," Sutton said. "We need to change the way we do business as to how these funds are spent. I'm frustrated because I've not been able to get the chamber to answer questions directly about how this money has been spent. They've done a poor job answering those questions. The days of getting free money are over."

Sutton said he hopes to have the new reporting requirements in place by next year.

Blakely Williams, chamber president and CEO, said the chamber would comply with any new requirements established by local governments.

"As the DMO since 1984, we value our continued partnership with the city and county," Williams said in an email. "As the steward of the city's and the county's tax revenues for tourism and marketing, we would embrace any and all discussions surrounding oversight and marketing promotions."

Related content:

Chamber, VCB to remain one organization, Aug. 30, 2011

Chamber of Commerce, Visitor & Convention Bureau square off to head Beaufort County tourism, July 20, 2011

Splitting Beaufort chamber, visitor bureau could make both stronger, officials say, Feb. 5, 2011