Monday, May 09, 2011

A DMO Best Practice To Measure Cultural Cost/Benefit Gaps

An important bottom line for community/destination marketing organizations (DMOs) is to close gaps and a gap that isn’t measured is nearly impossible to close.Cultural Gaps

That’s why I was intrigued while surfing, as I periodically do, through Durham’s research portal to see that the DMO in my hometown continues to improve on a best practice of measuring the gaps related to cultural facilities like museums, theaters, ballparks and convention centers that are meant in part to be closed by drawing visitors and taxable visitor spending (click here or on the chart in this blog to enlarge.)

It is a best practice other DMOs are increasingly noting because the Durham organization digs out of various parts of local government budgets, not only the more superficial gaps related to “operating” costs, but also both one-time capital expenses and long-term construction debt service.

The chart is also noteworthy because it also nets out the costs against local tax revenue generated by visitor spending related to each facility, both prompted (main purpose of the trip) or opportunistic (during trips for other purposes.)

It would be great if local governments across the country made this easier to do, not just for cultural infrastructure, but also for other infrastructure as well including tree canopy, streets, sewer and water etc.

It is short-sighted and unfair to single out cultural infrastructure with the expectation that it pays for itself when it is every bit as crucial to the overall vitality of any community as those that aren’t, such as streets, water and sewer treatment plants and tree canopy.

Too often their focus seems to be just on divvying up the general fund and the lack of overall context typically results in news portrayals that make it appear that officials are “playing favorites” by playing up some cultural facilities and coming down on others without ever providing a complete and “apples to apples” type of comparison.

That local governments don’t do this is more about habit, inertia and practice than anything purposeful.  And they are also currently a bit preoccupied by significant challenges as the Federal and State governments make drastic cuts, ostensibly to reduce deficits but often in reality just shifting the burden to the same taxpayers but at the local level.

Come to think of it, a version of this chart should also apply to any cuts at the Federal and State level making it clear which costs are truly being cut while demonstrating any related revenues and economic impact that will be surrendered as a result and which costs and responsibilities are merely being shifted down to another level.

Taxpayers along with “booster socialists” need to realize there is no free-lunch.  DMOs are charged with the task of broadening the tax burden by drawing in visitor-related spending.  This results in closing “gaps” between benefit and if more DMOs did what Durham’s is doing they’d have a much clearer picture of that challenge.

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