Tourism efforts in Effingham County could get a boost, if county commissioners and Rincon City Council members enact a proposal from the Effingham Chamber of Commerce.
Chamber Executive Director Rick Lott has asked the county commission to adopt a hotel-motel tax, and he is scheduled to make the same request of Rincon City Council. The 5 percent hotel-motel tax would be levied to guests staying at hotels and motels in the county and the city, and the proceeds would be used to promote and market the county’s budding tourism initiatives.
“We’ve got history to rival that of Savannah’s,” Lott said. “We know we’re a much smaller area. But the shame of it is on us if we don’t take advantage of the people coming to Savannah to see its history.”
Effingham’s tourism efforts could be helped if the Living History Site could have workers in period costumes year-round, Lott added.
“That’s one thing we can do you don’t see in Savannah,” he said. “What can we do, what can we promote that they have don’t have, and the Living History Site is a real jewel they don’t have.”
Lott told county commissioners the Chamber recognizes the need for passage of a hotel-motel tax.
“We want this to happen quickly,” he said, “so that the funds can begin to accumulate and be usable in the second year of the tax to assist in marketing our existing museums and other tourist attractions.”
The Chamber has given out more than $18,000 in grants for local tourism programs, and it has established a display of Effingham historical artifacts at the state visitors center on I-95, just north of Port Wentworth.
“The Chamber recognizes that tourism is a business,” Lott said, “and has the potential to directly and positively impact both business and government within the county.”
Lott also pointed out that the Chamber has assisted with events in the county, such as Olde Effingham Days, and helped to obtain a Scenic Byway Designation for the county.
“The Effingham Chamber is well-equipped and motivated to lead the way for Effingham County’s future growth in tourism,” Lott said.
The Chamber’s tourism arm would like to work with the Effingham Convention and Visitors Bureau, Lott said, but the CVB is not incorporated.
“We learned, along with many of their board members, their corporate paperwork with the state lapsed,” Lott said, “so we’re not sure what their status is. We have reached out to several of the board members.
“We would love to see that cooperative spirit. But we don’t know what the status of the group is. I asked the group well over a year ago if we could go forward with a hotel-motel tax so it could be accruing. After more than a year of it not being done, our board decided it was time for something to be done.”
The Effingham Convention and Visitors Bureau was formed in April 2007 but it was administratively dissolved in September 2010 for failing to file its annual registration.
CVB president Sherry Loper said when the Effingham CVB incorporated, it used the county’s post office box. But the county has not used that post office box for some time, she added.
“What we discovered was the notices were going to an old post office box and being sent back, because the county no longer has a post office box,” Loper explained. “Nobody thought about it; I certainly didn’t.”
The CVB has re-submitted its paperwork to the state secretary of state’s office, Loper continued, along with $250.
“Nothing has to start over,” she said. “We have our articles of incorporation. We did that two weeks ago, when we discovered all this, and we have money to do it with. Before, we paid that out of our pockets, as volunteers.”
Lott estimated the hotel-motel tax could generate from $10,000-$20,000 annually. He doesn’t expect the revenues to roll in at such a rate to rival that of Savannah.
“It’s not like where with a month’s collections we can get a billboard,” he said.
The Chamber needs to establish a budget for the funds it would receive. The county would collect the tax and pass the proceeds along to the Chamber.
Lott noted that state tourism director Bruce Green advised Effingham tourism backers earlier this year to get someone full-time devoted to those efforts.
“The Chamber is ready and willing to fill that role,” Lott said.
“What we would need to do is make assumptions for revenue and create a budget, so we can begin collecting those funds,” said County Administrator David Crawley. “Then we need to make contact with those organizations for those dollars to promote tourism.”