By Harry C. Alford
Tourism is a very important part to any nation’s economy. A nation that does not have a tourism structure is one that is destined to languish in extreme poverty. Cities in the United States realize this and every one of them has a Convention and Tourism Bureau. Similarly, they have a Chamber of Commerce that works hand in hand with government officials to promote their urban area and bring in that precious outside money.
These bureaus are primarily funded by two sources. One is the tourism tax that is applied to hotel rooms and restaurant sales. The revenue is handed over to the tourism bureaus to provide them resources to promote and advertise the advantages of spending your vacation, family reunion, conference in their locale. If the tourism bureaus did not receive the targeted revenue, they would be out of business and the attempts to draw tourists become a failure.
There second source of revenue comes from US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The federal agency sends billions of dollars each year to cities, counties and states. Any city over 30,000 residents receives this money directly; others receive them from the applicable county or state allotments. These funds are called Community Development Block Grants. They are to be used at the discretion of the mayor, governor, county executive, etc. A sizeable portion is used in the same manner as the funds derived from the tourism tax structure.
Are Black communities getting their fair share of this funding? Absolutely not. Furthermore, most don’t understand the process and, thus, are ineffective in going after the CDBG and tourism tax revenue. Yet, predominantly Black cities and communities continually wonder how majority populated continue to grow while they continue to shrink.
The National Black Chamber of Commerce is very active in educating communities through our chapters about the immense marketing funding that is slipping right through their hands. Our chapters in Hobbs, N.M. decided to get aggressive about the tourism tax. The president did her researched and formally applied for funding. The whole state went into shock. However, the governor and other local officials granted her request.
Many people couldn’t figure it out but it is so simple: Put money in, receive money going out. Blacks spend a lot of money on travel and entertainment. We should at least receive an equivalent share of the returning dollars that are devoted to promoting tourism activity. Who could police this? The local Black Chamber of Commerce would be the ideal monitor. For those cities without a Black chamber of Commerce, you may be lost. On the other hand, simply having a Chamber will not guarantee you a share of the tourism pie.
In a related, but different way, our chapter in Myrtle Beach, S.C. is facing a similar challenge.
Blacks living in this regional area see hundreds of thousands of visitors coming to their community, populating numerous hotels and resorts along the Atlantic shore. The restaurants are even more numerous and the theme parks would remind you of a miniature Disney World. Sporting events such as cross country running, speed cars, tennis, etc. bring in a lot of money also.
There is one event that has sparked controversy. It is the annual Bikers Week, held the last week of May. Sponsored by the Black Bikers Association, Blacks drop serious cash on these mostly White- owned establishments. Some locals want to stop this group from coming in. It is all about race, pure and simple. Myrtle Beach now has a “champion” stepping forward under the theme of diversity. He sees the only way to shrink the poverty in certain neighborhoods is through Black business ownership that could provide jobs to the local Black residents. “Where are our Black owned establishments,” this discerning White individual asked.
Not hearing any satisfactory answers, he said, “I am going to bring a Black Chamber of Commerce to help the Black portion of Myrtle Beach.” He realized that the Myrtle Beach Chamber (White) is receiving about $25 million per year for marketing the tourist attractions. What the forward thinking people are thinking is that we need to improve our Black business community and attract more Black tourists to spend their money in Myrtle Beach as well. The very night after he made that statement, his office was shot into 12 times, the walls were spray painted with graffiti and his tires were slashed. He called our office and convinced us to come to start a chapter there. So we’re going and taking the plan for financial equality with us.