A very successful "Spotlight on Tourism" legislative dinner served as an opportunity to learn more about tourism in our area and what plans state and federal legislators have for contributing to the success of tourism in the River Heritage's 12-county region.
Hosted by the Missouri Travel Council, the River Heritage Association and the Sikeston-Miner Convention and Visitors Bureau, the event brought together about 60 people at the Ray Clinton Community Center in Sikeston.
The evening featured 23 tourism exhibits from various attractions within the Region. Each participant gave a brief update of their organization's current projects.
The Cape Girardeau Convention and Visitors Bureau presented a visual slide tour of area attractions in the River Heritage Association. Those counties include: Ste. Genevieve, St. Francois, Perry, Madison, Bollinger, Cape Girardeau, Scott, Stoddard, Mississippi, New Madrid, Dunklin and Pemiscot.
Missouri Division of Tourism Director John Robinson noted that the total economic impact due to travel in Missouri in 2002 was $12.76 billion. Also he pointed out tourism is one of the top revenue-producing industries for the state.
According to Robinson, The River Heritage Region generated $24 million of the $614 million tourism-related revenues.
But the primary purpose of the meeting was to hear from the legislators in attendance. Each went "on the record" in support of tourism funding and more importantly, they did so at home in front of their constituents.
Lloyd Smith, chief of staff for U.S. Representative Jo Ann Emerson, spoke about the benefits of working together to better represent the industry as a whole.
Southeast District Director for U.S. Senator Jim Talent Jeff Glenn talked about association health plans, legislation pending in the United States Senate, which will help small businesses with insurance costs. Glenn also discussed Talent's pending Build America Bonds program, which will help to build better roads to make driving to attractions in Missouri easier.
Speaker Pro-Tem Rod Jetton noted it would not make sense to cut tourism dollars since each $1 spent returns more than $3 in state tax revenue. House Majority Floor Leader Jason Crowell agreed that cutting tourism expenditures in one of the few departments that actually has a return on investment would not help the state budget situation.
An update on tourism in the state budget was provided by State Representative Scott Lipke.
Of particular importance was House Budget Chair Lanie Black who said he would do everything he could to increase tourism funding if the money could be found. Regardless, he vowed to make sure tourism funding is not cut.