The Wichita City Council has approved a plan to increase tourism by raising taxes on the tourists that visit Wichita. If you are confused by this, don’t worry, it is not supposed to make sense. The idea is that the City will take that extra tax revenue and spend it on marketing the Wichita River Festival and the National Baseball Congress World Series, and that this will somehow open the floodgates of tourism and the money that comes with it.
In reality, the goal was to find yet another way to take tax dollars generated in Wichita and funnel that money to the Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau, which is a “non-profit” organization that receives a lot of money from the City of Wichita. Go Wichita, like a handful of other non-profit organizations, is almost entirely funded by Wichita tax dollars, but claims exemption from the Kansas Open Records Act, which means we are not allowed to see how they spend your money. This is the organization that is supposed to be using your money to make Wichita a place that tourists will want to visit.
The Wichita River Festival lost money four years in row, making a bit of a turn around last year. Those who travel to tourist destinations that actually turn a profit might question whether or not the River Festival is really going to attract tourists, regardless of any commercial that is made to promote the event, which only lasts for a week to begin with. The baseball tournament which the Wichita City Council bought for a million dollars is not a profitable venture, either, and is not likely to attract the sort of tourism that will propel Wichita into a prime vacation locale.
Wichita could take steps to, over time, become a place that tourists actually want to visit, but for that to happen, Wichitans are going to have to accept that this is the 21st century, and not 1950. Instead of voting down casinos that end up directly on the other side of our county line, we need to welcome these cash cows. Instead of entrusting shady developers to make western-themed amusement parks that fail before they open, we need to cut a deal with Six Flags, or Disney, and get a real theme park that will attract people from all over the mid-west.
These are just two examples that would be far more lucrative and effective than the current plan. Tourists like tourist attractions, and the Wichita River Festival doesn’t even come close to qualifying. People like aquariums and museums. People like attractions that they cannot see anywhere else. We need to think big. Let’s triple the size of the zoo and compete with the one in St. Louis, which is absolutely enormous. Let’s build an arena that could actually get us a professional sports team, instead of the tiny one we built that we hope is turning a profit (the numbers are still in question on the Intrust Bank Arena).
These are ideas that might attract tourists, but we are not trying to attract tourists. Instead, we are doing what is in the interest of the non-profit organization that was supposed to bring us tourism. Maybe it is time to demand a refund…