County visitors bureau shifts to fee-based model

CARA MORNINGSTAR/Sun-Gazette Jason Fink, executive vice president of the Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce, left, Rodger Jarrett, Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce board chairman, center and Gabe Sinicropi Jr., chair of the Lycoming County Visitor’s Bureau, right, talk about upcoming projects at the Williamsport Sun-Gazette office, 252 W. Fourth St.

Businesses and non-profit organizations will now be able to access Lycoming County Visitors Bureau services through a fee-based model.

Jason Fink, executive vice president of the Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce and the Visitor’s Bureau, said the fees for each tourism service will be $30 and up to $150 to take advantage of all five categories of services.

The categories are website, visitors information center brochure display, guide listing, brochure delivery and motorcoach marketing.

Formerly, only chamber members received the tourism services.

The fee for services is limited to Lycoming County entities. Other businesses and organizations located outside the county will be required to become chamber members.

“This new model for operating the Lycoming County Visitors Bureau will provide all qualifying businesses and non-profits direct access to the various services provided to the industry by our organization,” Roger Jarrett, Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce chairman, said. “Currently, 42, of the 49 tourist promotion agencies are membership-based organizations with only seven functioning in a manner consistent with what we are transitioning towards.”

Jarrett noted the $150 maximum cost is very affordable for businesses and organizations.

Fink said the fee-based model helps address the lingering resentment surrounding the county hotel tax.

Businesses and groups that were not chamber members claimed they were shut out of the tourism services used by chamber members.

The Lycoming County Citizens for Hotel Tax Accountability and the Peter Herdic Inn earlier this year filed suit in county court, claiming the tax dollars benefited the chamber and its members at the exclusion of other tourist attractions in the county.

The suit was later withdrawn.

“You have to evolve,” Fink said.

Lycoming County Commissioner Rick Mirabito, who has repeatedly questioned how the hotel tax is used, said he’s happy that at least an attempt has been made to remedy that issue.

“But I still think there is a whole lot of work that needs done,” he said. “What about the past money that has been spent? Taxpayers are entitled to compensation for decades when the chamber used the hotel tax to subsidize their organization.”

The tax, which this year was hiked from 3 percent to 5 percent on hotel room rentals, raises about $1 million annually in revenues, according to officials.

“We look forward to providing more individualized services to those businesses and non-profits that are looking for a customized approach to marketing their travel and tourism businesses here in Lycoming County,” Gabe Sinicropi, Lycoming County Visitor’s Bureau chairman said.