Pandemic cut into local visitors bureau funding

·3 min read

Jun. 5—ANDERSON — Like many businesses and government agencies, the Anderson Madison County Visitors Bureau experienced a significant decline in revenue last year.

Financial information provided by the bureau shows a $184,000 decline in revenue for 2020 compared to 2019 and prior years.

The local innkeeper's tax generated $435,944 in 2020, compared to $620,000 the year before.

"The pandemic had an impact," Mark Thacker, CEO of the visitors bureau, said Friday. "We started with a budget over $600,000 based on the revenue projections."

He said the bureau went into cost-saving mode and closed the office for several months. Local hotels were closed during that time as well.

"We brought the funding for budgets down to $400,000," Thacker said. "Our budget was based on projections and didn't expect our revenue stream to be cut off.

"We put the binders on and went into cost savings," he added.

The bureau's 2021 budget started at $400,000, but now Thacker anticipates revenue will be closer to $500,000.

The bureau is working to match funding for local festivals that are trying to reopen this year, Thacker said.

"We're seeing an uptick in revenues from 2020," he said, "but not at the 2019 level. We're getting requests for funding and still trying to assist with promotions."

For 2020, the bureau included $380,840 for promotion of tourism in Madison County. In 2019, that figure was $515,375.

"The bureau creates the budget, which is reviewed by the local commission," Thacker noted. "It's all based on projected revenues."

The two biggest tourism attractions in Madison County are Hoosier Park Racing & Casino and Anderson Speedway, he said.

"Hoosier Park gets 3 million visitors per year, which is people coming from out of state and the region," Thacker said.

"We try to promote what I call the hidden gems in the county," he added. "That tells the story of the rest of the county. Our budget is promotion driven."

Since 2015, the visitors bureau has received $3,702,860 from the county's innkeeper's tax.

Most of those funds — $2.8 million — have been spent to promote tourism in the county.

During the past six years, the bureau has spent 81% of its income on promotion of the county and 16% on operations, with the remainder going to administrative expenses.

Since 2015, the bureau has spent $1.56 million on employee salaries and benefits.

The financial record for the period covering 2015 to 2020 was requested by The Herald Bulletin through the Indiana Access to Public Records Act.

The visitors bureau initially denied the request, with Attorney Ashley Hopper saying the bureau is a nonprofit organization, is not considered a public agency and is, therefore, not bound by open record laws to provide financial records to the public.

But the bureau did an about-face and provided the documents May 28.

The Herald Bulletin has requested an opinion from the Indiana public access counselor on whether access to visitors bureaus' financial records are covered by the Indiana Access to Public Records Act.

Follow Ken de la Bastide on Twitter @KendelaBastide, or call 765-640-4863.