Sample Letters for Media

Tourism Matters Sample Letter:

Dear Editor,

I’m writing to voice my support for the travel-related organizations within our state that work diligently to market Montana as a prime vacation destination. In 2016, Montana had 12 million non-resident visitors that came here and contributed more than $3 billion to our local economy.

The thing is, these visitors don’t just come here on their own. There are organizations like Montana Office of Tourism, Glacier Country Tourism and the Billings Convention and Visitor Bureau that are dedicated to promoting our state to nonresident visitors. Organizations like these rely on the 4 percent bed tax (lodging facility use tax) to sustain their programs and continue reaching out and bringing visitors to spend money in our towns and local businesses, providing jobs for hardworking Montana residents.

Tourism is an important economic engine for our state. To see any of the 4 percent bed tax taken away and used on other programs or manipulated in any way would be a travesty. I would encourage other travel and tourism supporters to contact your legislative representatives and help protect this vital part of our economy.

Your Name, Your Address, Your Town, Your Phone Number

Other Sample Letters

*These sample letters are not endorsed by Tourism Matters To Montana. Their intended purpose is to show samples of letters to the editors from newspapers around Montana.

I-161 Would Harm Outfitters, Landowners

(Letter to Billings Gazette)

On Nov. 2, I urge voters to vote “no” on Initiative 161. It was originally designed to try to increase access to private lands for hunters by eliminating the “competition.” The false premise of this initiative is that if private landowners weren’t working with outfitters, that they would open their lands up to the public. There is no evidence that this would happen.

Private landowners often choose to work with outfitters because the lease income helps them balance their budget or they have had negative experiences with the public. If outfitters go out of business or can’t pay the full lease, private landowners might take any new route. The ONLY action this initiative would achieve is crippling a Montana industry which already survived a 40 percent downturn in 2009, as was true to the entire tourism industry. Likewise, as family ranches struggle to keep afloat, injuring potential revenue also has adverse consequences to them. In a time when the economy is paramount to everyone, now is not the time to attack the outfitting industry, particularly with an initiative that fails to achieve its designed purpose.

The Montana Chamber of Commerce is against this bill because of its negative consequences to our state economy and small businesses. Be fiscally responsible and vote no on initiative I-161.

Jael Kampfe and Mackay family – Lazy EL Ranch – Roscoe

Outfitters important to state’s economy

(Letter to Billings Gazette)

Vote no on I-161. This initiative is a job killer for Montana!

Outfitting brings in many millions of dollars to the state of Montana, and this initiative is meant to put outfitters out of business! Before the outfitter sponsored licenses, outfitting was, at best, a starve-to-death business. Now, a hunter who wants to plan a vacation a year or two in advance can book with an outfitter and know that he has a license. Can you imagine planning a vacation, where you will spend approximately $10,000, and not being able to plan it until March of that year? (Believe me it won’t happen!) One of our typical hunters spends $1,100 on a license (which goes for block management to allow Montana sportsmen access to private land and wildlife conservation in the state). Then, he or she travels here, either by road or plane, spends at least a few nights in motels while buying meals, gas, gifts for his family, taxidermy and meat processing. This is all out-of-state money, keeping Montana small businesses employing Montanans! Then, we, as outfitters, not only pay our guides, which trickles into the economy, but we buy trucks, trailers, maintenance, tires, horses, mules, tack, groceries, gas, feed, hay and retail items too numerous to mention. We live and work here because we love it.

Please do your part to keep Montanans working. We are our best asset!

Susan Johnson – Hell’s A’ Roarin’ Outfitters – Gardiner

Tax-man cometh, and tourist goeth

(Letter to Helena IR)

Almost 200 years ago, Supreme Court Justice John Marshall cautioned that “the power to tax is the power to destroy,” a risk that may be increasingly relevant for Montana’s vital tourism industry, given recent steps by Gov. Brian Schweitzer and the state’s Department of Revenue.

Tourism is Montana’s second largest industry, bringing 10 million visitors to the state last year. Those travelers spent $2.3 billion, supported 25,500 local jobs, and generated $153 million in state and local tax revenue, according to the state’s Office of Tourism.

Most states would try to protect a golden goose so valuable. Instead, the Department of Revenue seems to be heating up the cooking pot. In recent weeks, the governor and DOR have launched increasing attacks against the state’s partners in the online travel industry — making threats, filing litigation, and attempting to rewrite the tax code on their own — all over a de minimis tax dispute worth around $100,000 per year, pennies compared to the revenue the companies bring to the state.

The issue is simple. The DOR claims that online travel companies should pay state lodging and sales taxes on their booking fees as if they were hotels, despite the obvious fact that they are not hotels.

The language of the existing statute is, in fact, crystal clear. It says that the lodging tax applies only to “owners and operators of lodging.” It is beyond dispute that travel agencies do not meet this definition.

So, losing on the facts, the DOR has launched a two-prong attack: twist the statute through manipulation and deny its clear meaning in litigation.

On the former, the DOR has taken steps to circumvent the Legislature and unilaterally change the wording of the statute through a rulemaking process by substituting the phrase “seller of lodging” every time the phrase “owner and operator of lodging” appears.

To claim that the two phrases are equivalent, however, is nonsensical.

Is a “seller” of newspapers the same as the “owner and operator” of the newspaper? Of course not. Otherwise every street vendor and newsstand would be running its own publishing empire.

Even under the DOR’s expansive wording, online travel companies do not meet the definition of “seller.” Online travel companies simply connect travelers looking for rooms with “sellers” of such rooms, the hotels that wish to rent them.

That’s why, when the Montana legislature considered expanding the lodging tax in 2007 to include online travel companies and other intermediaries, it decided against doing so. The state’s elected officials made the logical determination that travel agencies are not hotels and shouldn’t be taxed as such. They also expressed concern that collecting the tax would cost more in administrative expenses than it would collect in revenue.

Despite that clear legislative guidance, the DOR has filed litigation against a dozen major travel companies, falsely claiming the companies owe millions in back lodging taxes.

Luckily, the courts have overwhelmingly agreed with common sense on this issue. Of the 13 courts that have ruled on the merits of similar claims, 11 – including both at the federal appellate level — have ruled in favor of the online travel industry.

Equally important, no court has found that online travel companies collected any tax beyond that sent to local municipalities. In short, every penny of lodging tax owed in Montana is being collected by Montana.

Through these ill-conceived attacks, Gov. Schweitzer and the DOR are truly stepping over dollars to try to collect pennies. Rather than litigation and confrontation, Montana would be best served through increased cooperation with the online travel companies who bring so many tourists to the state.

Art Sackler is executive director of the Interactive Travel Services Association, the group representing America’s online travel companies.