The Greater Albuquerque Hotel & Lodging Association (GAHLA) is concerned about the process for selecting projects and the manner in which the Lodgers Tax fund is spent. GAHLA represents over 100 lodging organizations and allied members with 7,480 guest rooms contributing to the fund.
As the generators of Lodgers Tax, we are troubled that the industry is not afforded the opportunity to provide advice and counsel on the use of the tax. Recently we have been blindsided by approved Lodgers Tax expenditures with no opportunity as stakeholders to be part of the conversation. The Lodgers Tax Advisory Board is also too often left out of the process. The mayor’s refinancing proposal to enhance “sports tourism infrastructure” and the One Albuquerque sculpture are just the latest examples of industry exclusion in the process. GAHLA is committed to working with the administration and City Council to provide recommendations and suggestions on how best to use the tax to generate new room nights to grow city occupancy and increase revenues. Our objective is to set standards that will appropriately evaluate these projects for return on investment. When Lodgers Tax collections increase, so do gross-receipts taxes and employment.
We are currently studying the mayor’s proposal to refinance $9 million and purchase a new bond for $29 million using Lodgers Tax for improving infrastructure for sports tourism. We request time to study the proposals in the mayor’s package. We are requesting the data collected by the city when determining these projects. And we ask that a business case be developed for industry review and comment. What are the specifics of each project and how do they tie back to increasing overnight stays? We are currently creating a list of industry priorities for consideration. We appeal for an active voice in the process.
The Lodgers Tax Advisory Board was also not aware of the mayor’s sports-related tourism infrastructure package or the One Albuquerque sculpture purchase until they were announced in the press. This is simply not a good way to conduct city business and exemplifies why the ordinance regarding Lodgers Tax needs reform. We propose a formula for “level of impact” on the investment, and confirmation that occupancy tax expenditures clearly align with the intent of the law. GAHLA will put forth a proposal for an amendment to change the Lodgers Tax ordinance to redefine the composition, roles and responsibilities, and the review and approval process for the Lodgers Tax Advisory Board. Expenditures must directly promote tourism and enhance the convention and lodging industry. Without strong industry oversight, the expectations and outcomes for the Lodgers Tax will continue to stray from the intent of the law by allowing for a broad and lax view of allowable uses. Redesigning the Lodgers Tax Advisory Board will address the issue of perceived misuse of the tax and strengthen accountability in spending. A strong and inclusive board with the ability to influence proposed uses of the tax is required. Tourism is a bright spot in Albuquerque’s economy. Lodgers Tax collections have grown by over 10% in the past 12 months. The hospitality industry employs 44,000 citizens in Albuquerque. If we are to continue to grow tourism and expand our marketing efforts to help our destination become more vibrant, the fund must be protected. Making calculated and well thought-out decisions, with guidance from the industry about the best possible use of this money, is paramount to our continued success.
GAHLA looks forward to working in conjunction with the hospitality industry at large, the city’s marketing agencies, the administration and City Council to use the occupancy tax responsibly and to keep our local economy growing.