On November 21, Caddo and Bossier Parish voters will have another opportunity to provide for improved air service to northwest Louisiana and sports tourism with a “yes” vote to increase the area’s hotel occupancy tax from 4.5 percent to 6 percent. The additional 1.5 percent would be equally divided between the Ark-La-Tex Regional Air Service Alliance (RASA), the Shreveport-Bossier Sports Commission, and the Independence Bowl.
The current 4.5 percent hotel occupancy tax is levied and collected by the Shreveport Bossier Convention and Tourism Bureau; the additional 1.5 percent is anticipated to generate over $860,000 in new revenue for the 2015-16 year, and approximately $1.7 annually thereafter. And only hotel-motel guests would pay the tax, a nominal average $1.10 per day. This funding is important to all three recipient organizations – today a look at how it will be leveraged to improve air service to our area.
RASA is a 501c4 non-profit organization and its exclusive purpose is to increase air service through the Shreveport Regional Airport. The Shreveport Airport Authority can’t negotiate with carriers for packages, etc., so RASA was created to help the airport become more competitive and attract new services. Northwest Louisiana travelers – business and leisure – who enjoy our airport’s United Airlines direct flights to Denver may not be aware the service was the result of the Shreveport Airport Authority and RASA partnering to convince United to offer the service.
RASA President G.B. Cazes pointed to the quick success of the Denver service – RASA had to guarantee the revenue for the service, but it took only three months for the service to pay for and prove itself, and become self-sustaining. And it’s a model that Cazes and past RASA president Tim Wilhite would like to see replicated for several serious reasons.
In an October 2014 Shreveport Times piece, Wilhite noted: “As a member of the Greater Bossier Economic Development Foundation Executive Committee, I have witnessed a number of businesses cite transportation issues as a reason for not adding or moving operations to the Ark-La-Tex. The issue was the lack of quality air service, including hub options and competitive pricing for flights to the area.”
More recently Wilhite summed up that economic development concern saying, “It’s not always about us going somewhere, but getting people to us.”
The importance of getting those folks here was emphasized by Cazes who noted, “We know if someone comes to Shreveport-Bossier they come back seven or eight times.”
But getting people here is expensive and inconvenient if they can’t do it expediently. And it works the same way for folks traveling from northwest Louisiana. Both Cazes and Wilhite cited the critical need for a direct flight to Washington DC, with Wilhite noting a 37 percent increase from 2014 to 2015 in people from this area flying back and forth to Washington DC. Global Strike Command at Barksdale, along with tenant companies at Cyber Innovation Center and the research park, must have that timely connectivity to the Washington DC area. Such connectivity would also be a positive factor for the base should it be subject to future Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) consideration.
While the importance of expedient business and military air travel to and from our area cannot be understated, Cazes pointed out the impact of leisure and vacation travel locally: the 44,000 area jobs that rely on visitors to Shreveport-Bossier City and surrounding attractions.
From any standpoint, a vote in favor of increasing the tax is a vote in favor of much needed economic development efforts. Cazes said that such a reliable funding stream produced by the tax increase would allow RASA to negotiate with an airline, for example – United, to discuss direct flights to its hub in Charlotte. That would provide greater connectivity to the east and would likely lower air fares going east as there would be increased competition. Then there’s Chicago – a major hub for the west, and the list goes on.
According to Wilhite, the Shreveport Regional Airport has the capability to become a regional hub with connections to multiple hubs. Cazes points to that connectivity along with quality of service and fare-reducing competition as RASA goals.
Caddo and Bossier Parish voters have the opportunity to be instrumental in significantly moving air travel forward in northwest Louisiana with a “yes” vote to increase the hotel motel tax on November 21. Coming up: how that “yes” vote also will help aide the Shreveport-Bossier Sports Commission to bring more sporting events to the area – an economic development effort we can all support.
Marty Carlson is a columnist for the BPT. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org