The Bright Side

Each generation’s approach to doing things is slightly different from the last, but some things remain constant.
Like tourists visiting the Geneva Lake area, and the focus of area businesses and the city government on the revenue that the tourism generates. City Council resolution R17-02, in which the city is setting up a Tourism Commission, is the city council’s latest attempt to assure that the city controls and directs how the room tax dollars collected from within the City of Lake Geneva are used to benefit the city. They also want to once and for all remove the blatantly illegal situation that now exists with ‘Visit Lake Geneva’ (the former Lake Geneva Area Chamber of Commerce) collecting taxes, and then giving the city a slice. The use of the room tax dollars by this former chamber of commerce has been a contentious issue for many years.

The issues, other than collecting tax money, involve questionable spending, accountability and selective use of the room tax money for the specific benefit of private businesses, while ignoring others. The creation of the Tourism Commission would enable the City of Lake Geneva to ensure that the room tax dollars collected within the city are used to benefit tourism, especially overnight tourism within the city. Darien Schaefer, current President/CEO for the Lake Geneva Chamber of Commerce (now ‘Visit Lake Geneva’) and the Convention & Visitors Bureau, originally supported the City of Lake Geneva creating a Tourism Commission. But on reviewing the actual resolution he recanted his support, and stated his opposition at the Jan 23rd city council meeting. One of his concerns was the narrow focus of the ordinance. According to his presentation, his approach would be to encompass and promote the area as a destination, thus using the combined attractiveness of the entire area, rather than dividing the focus into separate competing areas. Schaefer also expressed concern about the proposed free use of the website, and the lack of funds for the maintenance of the website. Without constant costly changes, updates, and adding things of human interest, people may go to a website, but if they find nothing new or of interest on their second visit, they tend to not return. A person returns to websites for what is new and interesting, and since thoughts precede actions, keeping Lake Geneva on the minds of people increases the chances that they will visit Lake Geneva, which is the whole purpose of the website.

In addition to the points raised by Darien Schaefer, there is also concern about other issues. The required use of a “Tourism Entity” as defined in 66.0615 is one. A “Tourism Entity” is defined as a non-profit organization that only needs to spend 51% of its revenue on tourism promotions and development, and provides destination marketing staff and services for the tourism industry in a municipality, and if none is deemed available, one could create a non-profit within the City of Lake Geneva, pocketing 49% of its revenue as expenses. This issue is further compromised by the all-inclusive definition of “Tourism promotion and development” below:

“Tourism promotion and development” means any of the following; if they are significantly used by transient tourists and reasonably likely to generate paid overnight stays at more than one establishment on which a tax under sub. (1m) (a) may be imposed; that are owned by different persons and located within a municipality in which a tax under this section is in effect; or, if the municipality has only one such establishment, reasonably likely to generate paid overnight stays in that establishment:

  1. Marketing projects, including advertising media buys, creation and distribution of printed or electronic promotional tourist materials, or efforts to recruit conventions, sporting events, or motor coach groups.
  2. Transient tourist informational services.
  3. Tangible municipal development, including a convention center


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