The Fulton Town Council, at its regular meeting Tuesday, Sept. 8, heard the quarterly hotel occupancy tax (HOT) expenditures report from representatives of the Rockport-Fulton Chamber of Commerce. The report addressed the town’s dropping its allocation of HOT funds to the Chamber to $5,000 in the town’s 2020-21 budget.
The council, when approving the budget later in the meeting, approved allocating up to $30,000 to the chamber as long as HOT revenues collected are greater than the amount budgeted.
Craig Griffin, who owns three businesses in Fulton, including the Inn at Fulton Harbor, which collects the HOT tax, presented the history of the HOT, which starting being collected in the late 80s, and the Tourism Development Council (TDC), the arm of the Chamber charged with marketing the entire county via contracts with Aransas County, the City of Rockport, and Town of Fulton.
He noted tourism spending has increased from $26 million to $100 million during that same period.
Griffin said the TDC began promotion efforts before the first HOT funds were received, with a $30,000 loan from a local bank. HOT revenues from the county, city, and town have now reached $1.5 million annually.
Griffin noted Fulton is only giving 2% of its HOT funds to the TDC for promotion efforts.
Chamber Vice President of Marketing & Promotion Sandy Jumper then outlined the many ways the Chamber promotes the area and uses Fulton facilities, adding, “Businesses that support you with sales tax (revenue) benefit from our promotion efforts.
“Fulton gets $300,000 worth of (promotional) exposure (across many mediums).”
Jessie Pilgrim then outlined some other efforts that could be directed toward Fulton, including enhanced website presence, bringing in social media influencers, and attracting meeting planners.
It was noted the Chamber and Fulton have worked in partnership to collectively encourage people to visit Aransas County for more than 30 years, and Fulton really needs to provide a minimum of $30,000 of its HOT funds to help fuel that effort.
Jatin Bhakta, who owns three major hotels in the county, including one in Fulton (Hampton Inn), said Fulton is budgeting $173,000 in HOT revenues in the upcoming year, but he and other hoteliers “conservatively” project the overnight hotel business to bring in much more than that amount.
He also noted the town collects the tax on a quarterly basis, but encouraged the council to collect it monthly. Bhakta suggested the same to the Rockport city council.
He noted Rockport contracts with the TDC for 52% of its HOT funds, and Fulton is proposing to contract for less than 3% of its HOT funds.
“I think the numbers verify (what the TDC is doing is working, putting heads in beds). The $5,000 Fulton has budgeted doesn’t do it justice,” said Bhakta.
Donna Townsend, who owns businesses in Fulton, as well as in Rockport, said, “There are 30 businesses in Fulton that depend on the Chamber to promote (the area).”
Noting the hard knocks local businesses have endured since Hurricane Harvey, including the latest setbacks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she said, “Stand behind us and let’s look forward.”
Chamber President/CEO Diane Probst said future promotion efforts by the TDC could not include Fulton’s name without the minimum contribution requested.