With no quorum present for their quarterly meeting on April 23, members of the Ste. Genevieve Tourism Advisory Council brainstormed for some 45 minutes on ways to promote the town and to protect city funding of tourism.
Only chair Sara Menard and council members Kelly Fallert and Kandye Mahurin were present, along with city administrator Martin Toma and guest Jim Ferguson of Audubon’s Grill and Bar.
Ferguson brought up the issue of the Board of Aldermen’s recent discussions about eliminating tourism director Sandra Cabot’s full-time position or cutting funding for the Welcome Center.
“I don’t attend the meetings; I just read what they put in the paper,” Ferguson said. “It seems like there’s almost a disconnect between some people that are our aldermen and those of us that are in tourism. Maybe they don’t have a sense of what actually goes on, being the owner of a business in Ste. Genevieve.”
He mentioned comments by aldermen that none of the businesses put their own money into promoting tourism, which he said “is not true.”
“Whether we actually do it in actual volunteerism, which there is a value to that, but we do a lot of things to promote this town,” Ferguson said. “But for sure, the volunteerism we have here, we either shut our shops down or we walk away from it [the business] to be part of making this a successful community.”
He referred to business owners and their employees being active on city boards such as the Tourism Advisory Council, the Tourism Tax Commission, Heritage Commission, and Planning and Zoning Commission, as well as working at festivals and special events.
“They talk about advertising. I can tell you that, as one of the owners of the Audubon, we spend at least $1,000 a month in advertising,” Ferguson said. “We’re on the new [digital] billboard, we advertise in the local newspaper, we advertise in other medias out there. I know we’re one of a few who do. To say nobody does anything is a false statement.”
He said that he and his wife, Mary Beth, came to the community first as tourists themselves then “fell in love with the town,” before moving and opening Somewhere Inn Time in the late 1990s. He said they sold it after 10 years to another couple who similarly first came as tourists.
“A lot of these tourists that come into town then become owners of a business,” he said. “So, again, there are other values that these people that make these statements in the newspaper don’t understand.”
Ferguson mentioned the figure of 500 jobs in tourism-related businesses that Cabot gave to the Board of Alderman and which some of them seemed skeptical about.
“At one time, we had 48 employees at the Audubon,” he said. “We made up about 8 percent of the jobs in here. I think they’re not really looking at the total value that Sandra and her department has on this total community. It’s just shortsighted.
“They really don’t understand the impact that tourism office has, that it brings to this town. If you look at our sales at the restaurant, a good chunk of that is tourist sales that fund city tax. Our employees that are here, they make a living working down there. That’s their job. They don’t make millions of dollars, but they definitely are employed.”
See complete story in the May 1 edition of the Herald.