County accepting public bids to run temporary tourism website
Wanted: Tourism marketing website for Plumas County.
When: The end of March until June 30.
That’s what the county wants, and is willing to pay, for a website dedicated to marketing local tourism for the rest of the fiscal year.
The website is all that remains of the services provided by the defunct Plumas County Visitors Bureau.
The bureau had a budget of more than $250,000 and a three-person staff a few years ago.
County funding for the visitors bureau dried up at the end of 2011, forcing the bureau to shut down Jan. 13.
At its meeting Tuesday, Feb. 14, the county’s Board of Supervisors voted to revive a county-sponsored tourism marketing website through the end of the fiscal year. Who would run it and what it would look like have not been determined.
“Essentially this is just a Band-Aid to keep some (marketing) going,” Supervisor Lori Simpson said.
Simpson said she put the website item on the agenda in response to lodging providers’ complaints that the county was abandoning them.
Lodging providers have argued their businesses generate more than a million dollars in tax revenue for the county annually. They have loudly protested the visitors bureau’s closure and said they deserve the county’s support.
The supervisors planned to approve a formal RFP (request for proposal) at their Feb. 21 meeting. They set a March 16 deadline for people interested in developing and maintaining a website to submit proposals. The board planned to make its decision March 20.
The supervisors said they were well aware of tourism’s impact on the county. Supervisor Sherrie Thrall, who voted to end county funding for the visitors bureau, said she wanted the county to have control over how its marketing dollars were used.
The visitors bureau was under the direction of the nonprofit Plumas Corporation, which owns the content of the website plumascounty.org. The site is still online, but hasn’t been updated since mid-January.
Thrall made the motion to use $7,500 from the county’s general services marketing fund to pay for a website. Supervisor Terry Swofford, who has joined Thrall in opposition to funding the visitors bureau, seconded the motion.
“I like Plumas Corp.’s website,” Thrall said. “But it’s Plumas Corp.’s website.
“And I felt that Plumas County was being held hostage to some extent,” Thrall added. “County funding has gone into funding this website. And yet we really don’t have any ownership of it or control over it.”
Supervisor Jon Kennedy, who held a townhall meeting with lodging providers last summer, said he agreed with many of Thrall’s concerns. He said marketing tourism is “a high priority” for the county. But, he added, the county needs to figure out its priorities and devise a marketing plan.
“Right now this (Thrall’s motion to put the website operation up for bid) is a great motion, and I’m going to support it,” Kennedy said. “But down the road, we need to see if we can come up with $50,000, $100,000, $200,000, whatever, to set aside for marketing our county.
“Right now the county gets one million bucks in TOT (transient occupancy tax revenue generated by lodging providers). It’s clear where that TOT comes from.”
But Kennedy also told the lodging providers in the room “We are putting a little too much emphasis on the drastic importance of having a website up and running.
“I’m going to tell you right now, business owners, you do more work for your place than any visitors bureau or chamber of commerce is going to do to help you survive.
“So let’s not scream and give up because some website might not be funded or the visitors bureau is closed temporarily.”
Emily Webb, owner of Emily’s Garden in Quincy, said the county should be doing everything possible to promote the tourism industry.
“I just want everybody to think about how important the tourism industry is for our county. And that we are hurting financially,” Webb said. “And if we have one sector that can make us money, let’s try to make money with it.
“(Tourism) should be a place where we are investing. If you find something in your business that works, you put more money into it. It makes you more money. That’s what we’ve got here. So let’s try to look at it that way.”
The new website
A new tourism website could end up being the current website.
Plumas Corporation Executive Director Greg O’Sullivan said he would be submitting a request to run the site.
“Certainly Plumas Corp. would have a leg up on everybody else because of already having a presence,” Thrall said. “But I still feel that we have a duty to at least put it out there. It may be that (Plumas Corporation) would be the only people that responded to the RFP.
“Then (the county) would have done our job by saying: ‘This is what we would like to have done for Plumas County,” Thrall said. “But until we do that — and we have never done that — we don’t know what’s out there.”