By Tom Leppert
1:30 AM on Feb 5, 2022 CST
Cultural organizations have seen their bottom lines take a hit over the last two years. Arts and culture organizations in Dallas are primarily funded through hotel occupancy taxes, which have fallen off sharply during the pandemic.
Earlier this month, VisitDallas, the city’s tourism marketing arm, reported that between March 2020 and March 2021, Dallas lost 584 conventions amounting to a $990 million loss. And in April 2020, hotel occupancy dropped to a low of 21.7%, compared with the average of 70%.
While VisitDallas chief executive Craig Davis and his team are working diligently to navigate the omicron wave and return to pre-pandemic revenue levels with a strong 2022 events calendar, the city of Dallas has an opportunity to immediately boost hotel occupancy tax collections with the stroke of a pen and jumpstart the revival of the arts community.
How can we help revive local arts groups? By reaching a voluntary collection agreement with short-term rental platforms like Airbnb and VRBO.
Short-term rental websites like Airbnb and Expedia’s VRBO are technology platforms that provide homeowners with the ability to rent all or part of their home to guests looking for a place to stay while in Dallas. Homeowners can rent for one night or several weeks, and these sites have grown in popularity during the pandemic as people sought safer ways to travel.
In addition, these platforms continue to offer housing to visiting first responders and medical personnel. And some of our city’s smaller arts organizations like Teatro Dallas and the Juanita Craft House use these facilities for visiting artists who want a true feel for our city.
Short-term rental bookings are subject to the hotel occupancy tax, but the city’s collection process needs to be streamlined. Instead of individual mom and pop operators submitting a check each month, the more efficient approach would be for platforms to collect the tax at the point of sale and remit the total to the city each month. The agreement could include sharing more information and allowing the city to audit tax collections.
The state of Texas and numerous cities across the state have already entered into these agreements and are reaping the benefits. Galveston, for example, recently received its first revenue under the new agreement. And it’s not only vacation destinations; Houston, Plano, Abilene and Glen Rose have collection agreements in place.
While you may think that this money is a drop in the bucket for some of our large public art facilities, it will make a real difference for our smaller institutions. For bassoonists and ballet folklorico, youth orchestras and Kitchen Dog, an infusion of money into our community arts organizations would mean a great deal and energize the artists who want to continue to create and share their talents with us.
Dallas City Council member Adam Bazaldua should be applauded for his pragmatic approach to the issue. As chair of the council’s Quality of Life Arts and Culture Committee, Bazaldua has identified this opportunity for a streamlined collection agreement while simultaneously working toward a simplified, effective regulatory structure that balances property rights with the safety and security of our neighborhoods.
This solution will allow our city to be a national leader managing short term rentals, and for this, we will be rewarded, and so will our cultural arts organizations.
Tom Leppert is the former mayor of Dallas and serves on the boards of several corporations including chairman of Austin Industries. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.