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Tourists bring millions of dollars in tax revenue to our City, and they also have a major impact on City operations and resources, as well as our economy as a whole. How should we best manage the tax dollars generated by tourism to benefit our community?

Austin welcomes thousands of tourists each year, and those tourists pump significant amounts of tax dollars directly into City coffers. Those tourists also have a significant impact on City resources. We're trying to determine the right ways to invest tax money contributed by tourists back into the City. The Visitor Impact Task Force (appointed by the Austin City Council) is currently meeting (through the spring) to discuss how the City of Austin should use hotel occupancy tax funds paid by tourists. The task force will make recommendations to the City Council about how to best utilize all hotel occupancy revenue to impact tourism by May 31, 2017. This feedback could greatly influence their recommendations. 

 Join us to discuss this timely topic as the Austin City Council considers the budget for the coming year.

In what ways could hotel occupancy taxes be spent that would make our city a better place to live, work, and play? 

52 Responses

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Seth Goodman 4 months ago
  1. You can tell when there's a major festival going on in town because there is a huge increase in the number of people walking around central Austin. Unfortunately, the sidewalk infrastructure isn't up to the task of handling the extra foot traffic in many areas, especially around Auditorium Shores and Zilker Park as well as near UT's stadia and many parts of Downtown. People spill out into the street, walk through parking lots, and lack shade trees. The HOT could be used to greatly improve sidewalks leading to major gathering spaces in a way that would enhance safety, the visitor experience, and the city for Austinites all year round.
  2. Motorized transport also is a problem during festivals and at all times of the year. A downtown circulator shuttle is badly needed to reduce reliance on rideshares and taxis and to generally reduce car trips. Circulators work best when they are free to use so that people can hop on and hop off quickly. HOT funds could be used to fund a circulator route that connects major tourist attractions in central Austin while also distributing commuters from the Guadalupe/Lavaca bus lanes and the Red Line.
  3. Finally, it's no secret that one of Austin's main tourist attractions is our arts community, yet many of the talented professionals who bring so much tourism money to Austin take home very little of it for themselves. HOT funds would be well spent supporting the performing and visual artists without whom much of the funds would not exist. As much as possible, these funds should benefit local artists directly, either through hiring or commissioning their work, or through new subsidized housing in central Austin.
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Coapublic Information admin 4 months ago

Thanks for your comments, Seth! They are in line with some of what the Task Force has discussed. -Moderator

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camille smith 4 months ago

I agree that the people who make Austin most unique are no longer able to afford to live here. If Austin wants to maintain the intrigue that brings people here, it needs to address housing affordability or else it will just turn into Dallas. No offense Dallas.

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Coapublic Information admin 4 months ago

Thanks for your comments, Camille! Can you think of ways the City could use hotel occupancy taxes to make Austin more affordable? -Moderator

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Dick Ryan 4 months ago

Two areas are to help maintain our Parks and our Historic Resources - both used by tourists and residents alike.

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Coapublic Information admin 4 months ago

Thanks for those comments, Dick; the Task Force has taken up those two items in great detail. -Moderator

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Steve Busti 4 months ago

I highly recommend investing the money into at least two manned and mobile public restrooms, not only for the tourists, but also for Austin's growing homeless and transient downtown population. Anyone who has been downtown, especially around the 6th Street and Red River Entertainment district (Austin's hub of tourism), can see and smell how bad the public urination and defecation has become, particularly in the alleys. It has not only become a public health hazard, but it also is one of the first impressions tourist get of the city since these are the areas are where most tourists visit when they first arrive.

I advocate for a 24-hr manned mobile public restroom model similar to that adopted by San Francisco's Tenderloin District, which has proven to be very successful. Here's a link for more info: http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-sf-mobile-toilets-20150127-story.html

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Coapublic Information admin 4 months ago

Thanks for those comments, Steve! There actually is a pilot program in the works for that. -Moderator

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Trey Farmer 4 months ago

This is copied from another post I put up about it: "Basel, Switzerland and a number of other cities have a hospitality tax that is paid on any overnight stay at a hotel, motel, short term rental, etc. Each guest receives a pass that gives unlimited access to public transit options for the time of the stay. This increases ridership, promotes sustainable methods of getting around, keeps car off the roads (especially ones with people who don't know their way around), and it helps subsidize the public transit networks for those who live here full-time." Perhaps it could be a separate transit fee, which does the above but also helps fund sidewalk infrastructure and downtown loopers as Seth Goodman mentioned in his post above.

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Coapublic Information admin 4 months ago

Thanks for your suggestion, Trey! -Moderator

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Thomas Miner 4 months ago

KEEP OUR CITY CLEAN! ALL THE TIME. Aside from the dismal state of public transportation that has been repeatedly voted down as well as the removal of Uber and Lyft to assuage visitors trying to navigate our city there is a constant eyesore; the homeless on 7th and Red River. The camping out, the never seem to be empty trash cans and litter is disgusting and unhealthy. Spend the money monitoring and picking up the trash and litter all through downtown ALL THE TIME. Walk down the pedestrian area on 6th street during and an event it is comparable to taking a stroll through a garbage pit. Hire the homeless to clean up might be an answer.

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Coapublic Information admin 4 months ago

Thanks for your suggestions, Thomas. -Moderator

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Ronald McGrath 4 months ago

I think Austin needs tourism to prosper.
That said, I disagree that the tourist taxes should be treated differently. Tourist drive our roads, park, walk and take tours. When friends come to town and visit, they stay in our houses while they run around looking at the Capitol, U.T. and other sights of interest, including festivals and shows. I think the taxes collected from tourism should be put in the general revenue fund that is used to maintain the city. I do not think that a special bucket for this money to benefit a favored few is a good idea, it smacks of corruption.

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Chris Kosho 4 months ago

100% agree. I came and registered here just to say the same thing. Use tax revenue from tourists to pay off outstanding municipal debt and reduce or stop issuing bonds for projects. This will help make Austin more affordable and is fiscally responsible! I would also re-examine current ways tax money is being used, perhaps for subsidized events, and let private funding replace public funding.

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Coapublic Information admin 4 months ago

Thanks for your comments, Ronald and Chris. -Moderator

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Bob Binder 4 months ago

How about eliminating the "gouge the tourist" tax and encouraging other cities to follow suit. The tourists would have that much more to spend and would increase sales taxes some. And it would be a good advertising enticement for tourists to come here, spend money, and leave.

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Coapublic Information admin 4 months ago

Interesting idea, Bob! Do you mean eliminating the hotel occupancy tax altogether? If so, how would you account for the lost revenue? -Moderator

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Coapublic Information admin 4 months ago

Thanks for those additional comments, Bob. -Moderator

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Bob Binder 4 months ago

One way is to cut back, or ideally eliminate, incentives to prosperous businesses. We don't need to pay businesses to locate in Austin. Most already know where they're going to locate. We're a desirable place to locate because of our educated community, open spaces, and so much more -- they aren't deciding to come here because we pay the most.

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Renee Pepin 4 months ago

Austin needs more green spaces, especially in the downtown areas. Zilker, Auditorium Shores and the Barton Creek Greenbelt are overused. Zilker is often tied up with events like ACL and unavailable to the general public. I wish the Seaholm power plant could have been converted to a park area for downtown residents.

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Coapublic Information admin 4 months ago

Thanks, Renee--are you suggesting the City spend hotel occupancy taxes on developing more park spaces? If so, where should those go? -Moderator

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Cecile FG 3 months ago

Central Austin's got a ton of park space, other parts of Austin need additional parks space more than Downtown!!

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Bethany Andree 4 months ago

Having lived in Austin nearly 30 years, it's obvious to me that our creative community, both visual and performing arts, is what brings tourism here. The Arts made, and continue to make, Austin hip. (SXSW was partially created to help boost the economy while UT students were all away during spring break.) From what I understand, HOT funds have historically gone to the Arts. With this 'cut-everything-liberal' administration, let's not take those much needs funds away from them.

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Coapublic Information admin 4 months ago

Thanks for those comments, Bethany. -Moderator

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Caiti Coughlan 4 months ago

I was born and raised in Austin and have seen many changes both good and bad. Tourism puts Austin in a real catch-22. We need and want tourists because they greatly contribute to the Austin economy particularly to our service industry workers and our artists who keep Austin culture vibrant and alive, yet that culture is being threatened because the artists and service industry workers can no longer afford to live here. It's frustrating and saddening that after each festival or event Austin experiences, we lose a little bit of what makes Austin such a great place to live. I used to love SXSW when I was a kid. It was a chance to hear music I would have otherwise never heard of and see films from all over the world. Now it's saturated with corporate shenanigans and I have absolutely no desire to be down there, and this is coming from a musician who has been actively performing in Austin since high school. Each year it gets bigger and crazier. And in order to compensate for the increase in size it feels like the city is selling out to appease these tourists to too great an extent. We host these festivals and events yet the people who live here and have grown up here are left with sky-rocketing property taxes, an ever increasing crime rate, and no means to get around our own city when these tourists come (and that feels like every weekend these days).There are so many ways that this tax money could be used, better infrastructure,better transportation systems,and most importantly more affordable housing for AUSTIN residents. If you want to "Keep Austin Weird" you need to make it affordable for us weirdos to live here!

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camille smith 4 months ago

Preach!

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Coapublic Information admin 4 months ago

Thanks for your comments, Caiti! Just to clarify--should the City use hotel occupancy taxes for infrastructure, transportation, and affordable housing? If so, any specifics on what the money should be spent on in those categories? -Moderator

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Sarah Simpson 4 months ago

Better public transit so that everyone who lives here, along with all the tourists, can move through the city - to and from airport, downtown to hotels, work to home, park to school - with ease and without heavy reliance on privatized car-centric infrastructures.

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Coapublic Information admin 4 months ago

Thanks for your suggestions, Sarah! How would you suggest the City spend hotel occupancy taxes specifically to improve public transit? Different kinds of service, more frequent service, different routes? -Moderator

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Coapublic Information admin 4 months ago

Great; thanks for that information! -Moderator

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Sarah Simpson 4 months ago

Creation of Lamar Blvd / 1st Street / 6th Street/ Congress Avenue / I-35 Circulator routes with outer city connections that better serve local and tourist-frequented areas alike; Light rail extension to the airport / expansion of existing bus service route to airport

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Bob Binder 4 months ago

If there is no support for eliminating the tax, and since there are so many worthwhile uses for this extra money, then it seems the discussion should turn to whether to do one or a few things well with the money, or instead, to do a whole lot of things a little bit. For example, if it's transportation we improve, that takes a whole lot of money. If we want to do restrooms, that probably costs a good bit less. It would help this discussion if the City moderators could give us approximations of how much tourist tax money there is and in what range some of the projects mentioned might cost. For me, I would like to see more of an investment in open spaces downtown and more police to keep traffic moving during the many events put on. For example, Republic Square was a parking lot for the Statesman in the 1970's. The 1973-75 Council bought it and returned it to being a park (site of one of the 4 original parks of Austin). Eliminating incentives (aka tax shifts to the rest of us) for prosperous businesses to come here would free up a lot of money to use locally, but this discussion is not about that.

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Coapublic Information admin 4 months ago

Hi, Bob: thanks for your question. I believe roughly $90 million was collected in hotel occupancy taxes in the last fiscal year. -Moderator

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Chris Kosho 4 months ago

Use tax revenue from tourists to pay off outstanding municipal debt and reduce or stop issuing bonds for projects. This will help make Austin more affordable and is fiscally responsible! I would also re-examine current ways tax money is being used, perhaps for subsidized events, and let private funding replace public funding.

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Coapublic Information admin 4 months ago

Thanks for your comments, Chris! -Moderator

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camille smith 4 months ago

People have different ideas about what they want Austin to become or what they think defines a thriving city. I was born and raised here and I have a different opinion than a recent transplant might. Austin doesnt need more green spaces or even more sidewalks, we need real answers to the growing homeless population, rising cost of living, unaffordable housing, gentrification, racial stratification, struggling public schools, etc. Tourism is only good if it has a long term benefit, we need to utilize any excess to fix deep seated problems, not invest money into superficial problems. Perhaps job creation in the form of trash collection or other city services is one way to find gainful employment for the homeless, maybe investing in land where housing for the homeless can be built, maybe investing in determining sections of the city "historical" and create caps on property taxes for senior citizens or long time residents, so that families of color on the east side aren't pushed out of the city limits. Additionally, if people could afford to live in town that would reduce traffic congestion. I don't write tax laws so I don't know how to better answer this question, but I know there are a million things that need to be done and landscaping isn't one of them. I don't believe it's impossible to understand the deeper issues and address them.

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Coapublic Information admin 4 months ago

Thanks for your comments, Camille. -Moderator

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Katherine Catmull 4 months ago

Please continue to use the funds to support the arts--Austin won't be Austin without its vibrant arts scene. Right now real estate prices have put all the arts are in a severe venue crisis--soon small theater and dance groups will have almost no options for places to perform. It would be a huge boon to the city if these funds could assist in the purchase of a warehouse or an old strip mall that could be converted into performance spaces.

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Coapublic Information admin 4 months ago

Thanks for your comments, Katherine. -Moderator

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Hotel Occupancy Taxes (HOT) must be spent to benefit the areas of the city, sectors of the economy, and workers who generate them. Not all hotel stays are related to downtown, SXSW, or the convention center. People come to Austin for business, or to visit family or friends. Outside of downtown, there are several clusters of business-class hotels and of motels designed for budget travellers. These areas must be served by the HOT revenue, including developing related businesses such as restaurants, and providing transportation and safety features particularly considering visitors, who may be unfamiliar with the surroundings. As well, HOT should be used for workforce and small business development, providing a route for experienced staff and contractors to build their skills and businesses, and increase their income. This is particularly important for the multilingual service sector workforce, to expand Austin's attractiveness to global travellers.

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Coapublic Information admin 4 months ago

Thanks for those comments! -Moderator

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Shannon Grounds 4 months ago

The city should continue to use the HOT tax revenue to support local arts organizations. Theatre, dance, film, music and visual artists contribute greatly to the character of Austin - the very thing that brings tourists here in the first place, and yet many of these artists are being forced out of the city and many of these organizations are struggling or being forced to shut down due to venue scarcity, quintupled rental rates, and a lack of institutional support from the city. Please use these funds to continue to support arts organizations and to establish an arts complex (perhaps in an empty strip mall or warehouse complex) with city support similar to that of Zach Scott so that Austin can continue to be a cultural destination.

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Coapublic Information admin 4 months ago

Thanks for your comments, Shannon! -Moderator

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David Aronofsky 4 months ago

Spend the dollars on free and subsidized mass transportation designed to transport tourists by using the dollars they bring in.

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Coapublic Information admin 4 months ago

Thanks for your suggestion, David! Do you have thoughts about the type of mass transportation and the route it should take? -Moderator

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Sharmyn Lilly 4 months ago

The City of Austin needs to raise funds to retrofit Faulk Central Public Library into expansion space for the Austin History Center once the new central library is completed and the library moves out of its present building. The Austin History Center preserves Austin's and Travis County's archives -- our history. Having access to and understanding our history allows our city to make informed decisions going forward so the Austin History Center is essential and vital to all present-day Austin citizens and her future citizens. Additionally, it provides material which researchers from Boy Scouts and students to professional journalists, videographers, filmmakers, artists, and other researchers and writers use to describe and depict Austin to the greater reading public. The Austin History Center is not only overcrowded; it is out of space to accept donations of new archives from individuals, businesses, organizations, and institutions which, together, tell the story of Austin's “collective memory” (our present-day history) of the past and present day; to process these materials; and to properly preserve them as well as to make them accessible to citizens and other researchers to study in the Reading Room as well as in exhibits and publications. Plans have been underway for several years about how the Faulk Central Library can best be used to provide for the Austin History Center's present and future needs. Using space for enhanced and expanded exhibits can make the new space a new destination for tourists in addition to citizens, bringing in more tourism funds, which brings this idea full circle.

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Coapublic Information admin 4 months ago

Thanks for your comments, Sharmyn! -Moderator

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Ken Webster 4 months ago

The city must continue to use the HOT tax revenue to support local arts organizations. Theatre, dance, film, music and visual artists contribute to what makes Austin a great place to live and to visit. Our arts scene brings tourists to Austin, and the HOT revenue is key to keeping our arts scene alive and thriving.

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Coapublic Information admin 4 months ago

Thanks for your comments, Ken! -Moderator

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Tim Altanero 4 months ago

Although it would be great to spread the money around and support various causes, many more important than what I'm about to suggest, I think it is important to first "finish" the downtown infrastructure and access as that is (correct me if I'm wrong) among the primary tourist destinations.

It would be great to build a walkable, possibly pedestrian-only sector so we're not always dodging traffic or, as a driver, unable to turn due to large numbers of pedestrians, thus clogging traffic.

Sidewalk expansion should be coherent and cohesive so we don't run into sudden "skinny" sidewalks.

Transportation to/from the airport to downtown via a subway or commuter train (not a "toy train" like the "red line") would decongest the airport.

A transport "station" or "hub" needs to be created downtown where people can connect to other modes of transport and additional subway (love subways) and commuter lines.

(Paid) public parking needs to be increased tremendously and not be subject to sudden crazy "spikes" where a $10 space is $30 or more during events until our infrastructure is complete.

A rational, comprehensive plans needs to be in place to develop this infrastructure, focused specifically on downtown so that we don't create "alternative" "downtowns" like The Domain, which should have been downtown in the first place.

What makes great cities great is that they have - and support - a vibrant, connected, usable, and "centered" urban core - if that makes sense. It gives us all a feeling that we live in "the city" vs. our varying neighborhoods, suburbs, and exburbs. It also invests us in the success of the city as a city instead of a collection of wildly differentiated and unevenly distributed outer areas.

Think of any great city. What makes them great is investment in downtown infrastructure. Otherwise we become Los Angeles, a perfect example of a city that refused to invest in its downtown to such an extent that a lot of people don't even know there is a downtown, much less want to go there.

I'm probably just dreaming but if we can create a great downtown, development can be more concentrated and keep us focussed on what makes Austin great so that once we're finally done catching up with missing infrastructure, we can build the transport and accessibility all of us want to the urban core.

If we can focus on that, we'll increase tourism and generate more and more money to fund any number of other causes but unless and until we address downtown, we aren't going to create a new great city.

Off topic a bit - do we know where we collect the most "tourist" taxes? Is it airport? DT? Elsewhere?

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Coapublic Information admin 4 months ago

Thanks for your comments, and good question. We collect tourist/hotel occupancy taxes primarily at hotels in the downtown area, as far as I know. -Moderator

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Cecile FG 3 months ago

Tax revenue generated by motels that are venues for prostitution should be used to fight this criminal activity and mitigate its effects on their neighbors.

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