While casting ballots nationwide in heated congressional races, voters also had the chance to approve several ballot questions around the country that relate to the meetings industry.
In Miami Beach, citizens approved an initiative to lease public land for a privately funded convention hotel that will be connected to the recently renovated and expanded Miami Beach Convention Center, which now features a 60,000 square-foot-grand-ballroom, 500,000 feet of exhibit space, 84 breakout rooms and a new six-acre public park. According to the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, the addition of the 800-room convention headquarters hotel is the destination's missing ingredient.
In September, the American Health Information Management Association brought the first citywide convention to use all that the reimagined MBCC has to offer; the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery held its citywide convention there last week. "We were fortunate to have early adopters like AHIMA who believed in the destination and booked the reimagined MBCC without a headquarter hotel," said William D. Talbert, III, CDME, president and CEO of the convention and visitors bureau. "We knew they and others like them would not book again without a connected convention hotel. We have a world-class destination and now a world-class convention center package to offer meeting planners and clients."
Also in Florida, Amendment 3 passed by a margin of 71.5 percent to 28.5 percent. The amendment gives Florida voters the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling for the state, if such a measure is brought forward for approval. According to the Miami Herald, Amendment 3 was proposed by Voters in Charge, a political committee largely financed by the Seminole Tribe and Disney, which has spent more than $31 million on the effort. If the amendment had failed, the newspaper said, the authorization to expand gambling would have remained with the State Legislature.
In Arkansas, Issue No. 4 was approved 54.1 percent to 45.9 percent. The amendment requires four licenses to be issued for casino gaming at casinos in Crittenden (to Southland Racing Corp.), Garland (to the Oaklawn Jockey Club), Pope and Jefferson counties. Alex Gray, counsel for the Driving Arkansas Forward committee that sponsored the measure, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that the constitutional amendment was approved because voters responded to the committee's objectives of keeping tax dollars in the state, creating jobs and fostering economic development.
In Northern California's South Bay, Palo Alto voters approved Measure E, which will make the city's hotel tax the highest in the state. The rate will rise from 14 percent to 15.5 percent, and the proceeds -- an estimated $2.55 million annually -- will be directed into the city's general fund. Nearby Mountain View has a 12 percent hotel tax, while Menlo Park's rate is just 10 percent.
Meanwhile, in Lubbock County, Texas, voters passed Proposition A, which will raise both hotel and rental-car taxes to help fund a multipurpose arena. The hotel/motel occupancy tax will likely go up by 2 percent from its current 13 percent rate, and the tax on rental cars could rise by as much as 5 percent. The roughly $50 million Lubbock County Expo Center, if built, will be capable of hosting events such as concerts, rodeos, and agricultural and equestrian shows.
In reaction to changes in Congress, particularly in the House of Representatives, which has taken on a much bluer hue, Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, said the organization looks forward to connecting with the roughly one-quarter of Congress that is new, and educating them on the $2.4 trillion economic impact and $77 billion trade surplus travel and tourism generate for this country.
"We have long stressed that travel is not a red or blue issue -- it's a red, white and blue opportunity," he said. "Our approach might change slightly depending upon who's in office, but our mission to make sure travel and tourism are part of the policymaking discussion never does. Both parties recognize the economic power of increasing travel to and within the United States, and that the 15.6 million our industry helps employ are Republicans and Democrats and everything in between."