published: Wednesday, May 22, 2013
TDC says leeway given in counting visitors
By BARRY FOSTER
SEBRING - In making a presentation to the Highlands County commission Tuesday morning, Commissioner Jim Brooks asked TDC Executive Director John Scherlacher about how the TDC's room verification system works.
Scherlacher explained that event organizers set up arrangement with a "host hotel" or other lodging facility to help keep track of the number of so-called "heads in beds" generated by a specific event.
He said many times, participants will be offered a "special deal" that then is used to quantify the numbers of visitors who stay locally in conjunction with an individual event. Scherlacher said those numbers then are "spot-checked" by TDC staff. If there are variances, he said, event coordinators would be contacted to determine a more accurate accounting.
However, Sherlacher said the TDC also provides some wiggle room.
"We also look at it as not all the athletes or participants that stay in Highlands County will check in and say where they are from," he said. "So we give a slight leeway on some of the numbers that come in. If they are off by a couple, we will give them the benefit of the doubt."
That was news to a number of commissioners, including Don Elwell, who also chairs the Tourist Development Commission.
"This is the first time I have heard of leeway given," Elwell said. "Is there a percentage that we use?"
Although there was no hard and fast rule, Scherlacher said it would be "a few rooms."
Commissioner Ron Handley agreed with Elwell, calling for the TDC to set parameters or percentages on how much leeway should be allowed.
"'A little bit' is pretty vague. Everybody's interpretation of that can vary," Handley said.
Brooks again asked whether it was the TDC or event organizers who carried the responsibility of determining hotel stays.
"Many times they are booked in under an event code. Then after it is over, hotels can easily pull up that report and submit that," explained Elwell, who has a background in the hospitality industry.
Scherlacher said that as part of the application process, the numbers submitted by organizers subsequently are re-checked.
Following the explanations, commissioners then approved numerous requests for TDC funds including up to $3,000 to the Heartland Triathalon; $1,500 to the Highlands Pedalers, Inc. for out-of-county advertising for the Tour of Sebring; up to $2,500 for host fees for the Dixie Youth 2013 T-Ball State Tournament; up to $1,500 as part of a five-year contract with the Highlands County Lakes Association for food to feed volunteers during lake clean-up activities; up to $1,000 to the Toby the Clown Foundation for museum and gift shop brochures; and up to $4,000 to Youth Baseball of Sebring for host fees for the Dixie Youth 2013 Dixie Boys and Dixie Junior Boys State Tournament.
In other action, commissioners re-appointed two longtime members of the Highlands County Tourist Development Commission. Reinhart Haubner of the Chateau Elan and Christine Hatfield of the Inn on the Lakes. Each was sent back for a four-year term.
In addition to having served on the TDC since its inception, Hatfield is the chair of the TDC's marketing committee. This will be Haubner's second term on the board.
Resident Bill Youngman, who has attended many TDC meetings, suggested that commissioners consider appointing some "new faces" to the commission.
"In the future perhaps we have to have some changes, but we will look into that in the future," said commission chair Jack Richie.
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