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DeKalb County visitor's bureau 'significantly underfunded'

2018 DCCVB annual report celebrates highs, lows of ‘small but mighty’ group

Debbie Armstrong, executive director of DeKalb County Convention and Visitors Bureau makes a presentation during a City Council Meeting Monday November 26 in DeKalb.
Debbie Armstrong, executive director of DeKalb County Convention and Visitors Bureau makes a presentation during a City Council Meeting Monday November 26 in DeKalb.

Note to readers: This story has been corrected to reflect that DeKalb County does not have home rule status.

DeKALB – Debbie Armstrong, executive director of the DeKalb County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said her organization is “drastically underfunded,” because of the city's home-rule authority that allows it to spend hotel tax revenue as it pleases.

Armstrong has compared her group to the state and national average invested with certified destination marketing organizations. She presented the DeKalb City Council with her organization’s 2018 annual report Monday, saying her organization is “small but mighty.”

In total, visitors to DeKalb County spent $98.8 million in 2017, up 5.5 percent from 2016. Since the bureau became certified in 2009, revenue from visitor spending has risen by $33 million, according to the annual report.

“If there is a single factor holding the DCCVB back from producing the kind of impact its stakeholders want, need and expect, it is that the bureau is significantly underfunded for the job at hand and for the competition surrounding them,” Geist said in comments read by Armstrong during the presentation.

The visitors bureau’s organization assessment included remarks from Bill Geist of DMOproz, a marketing and tourism consulting agency based in Madison, Wisconsin.

According to Article VII of the Illinois Constitution, home-rule regulations – which went into effect in 1971 – allow governing municipalities to have local control over day-to-day operations, including how to regulate tax money to local organizations such as a convention and visitors bureau. DeKalb is regulated by home rule automatically because the population is more than 25,000.

In 2017, the DCCVB received $7 million in state tax receipts, up 11 percent from 2016, and $1.6 million in local tax receipts, up about 6 percent. The return on investment data is from 2017 because the figures do not come available until after the fiscal year, Armstrong said.

In 2017, revenue from hotel sales tax totaled $558,000 combined from DeKalb and Sycamore. Armstrong noted that Sandwich’s revenue from hotel taxes was not included in the presentation because of the way its fiscal year operates.

“That’s visitors that have come to this area and spent their money at our businesses and keep them thriving,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong said that getting a certified visitors bureau in 2009 for the county has positively affected tourism dollars.

“We became certified in 2011, and our first matching grant, which comes from investment locally and a matching grant from the state, you can see the impact we’ve had,” Armstrong said.

Initiatives put forward in 2018 for the DCCVB included print, web and social media marketing efforts, a new marketing program called Bold Spirits of DeKalb County, which Armstrong said “has grown into quite a partnership.”

“These are folks contributing and investing with the CVB on their own because they’ve seen such a return on investment of marketing and promotion we’re doing on their behalf,” Armstrong said.

Revenue from media coverage in 2017 totaled $9,100.

The DCCVB had a total operating 2018 budget of $161,401.

“For the first time ever, we now have two full-time employees,” Armstrong said. “We are going to do more tour groups, more trade shows and work on marketing programs to get more private money.”

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