B J F -S Publisher’s Note: This is a guest editorial to the Zachary Post and Feliciana Explorer newspapers by the Publisher of Country Roads magazine. Based out of West Feliciana Parish, Country Roads magazine publishes monthly and covers Louisiana culture and tourism. Fox-Smith asked us if he could submit this editorial because he feels a passion about the upcoming ballot initiative.
By the time this November 7 issue of the Zachary Post and Feliciana Explorer goes to press I will have been writing an installment of this “Reflections” column every month for 22 years for Country Roads magazine. That’s around 260 articles … or it would be had we actually printed an issue every month. But in 1995 and ’96, while we were still working out what, exactly, it was we were trying to say here, I think we only managed seven or eight issues a year. Nevertheless, if you take into account the “Reflections” columns that my business partners (aka: my wife and my mother-in-law) refused to let me publish over the years for fear of alienating family, friends, or generations-worth of readers, it probably comes close to 260. Within that time I’ve written about all sorts of experiences from my weird-but wonderful-life as a stranger in rural Louisiana—hurricanes, strident ghosts, oversexed chickens, learning to dance, driving on the wrong side of the road, insect infestations, questionable picnic etiquette, wild mushroom identification, delusions of horticultural grandeur, the birth of my children, why you shouldn’t swim in Bayou Teche at 3 a.m., and the importance of closing the windows when you have a ninety-pound dog with astra-phobia (Google it). But I have never, ever before written about politics. Until now. When they go to the polls on November 18, Baton Rouge, Zachary and Feliciana voters will be asked to consider a two percent increase to the Hotel Occupancy Tax. As the name suggests, the Hotel Occupancy Tax is paid by visitors to Baton Rouge, Zachary and the Felicianas —in the form of a four per-cent tax added to their hotel room tab. If the proposal is approved, that rate will go from four percent to six, increasing the cost of an average Baton Rouge hotel room stay by around $2 a night. When in their song “Mr. Wendel,” Arrested Development rapped, “Two dollars means a snack to me / But it means a big deal to you,” they weren’t singing about the Baton Rouge tourist office, but they could have been. Visit Baton Rouge—the organization that exists to promote travel and tourism to Louisiana’s capital city and surrounding area—is entirely funded by the Hotel Occupancy Tax. They would appear to be doing a good job. According to the Economic Impact in Louisiana Parishes Report published by the UNO Hospitality Research Center, in 2016 4.3 million people visited Baton Rouge. They spent around $896 million, supporting more than 12,000 Baton Rouge jobs. The 2% increase to the Hotel Occupancy Tax would grow Visit Baton Rouge’s operating budget by around $1.3 million annually—a figure that would enable the organization to offer better incentives for hosting conferences and sport-ing events, to grow local festivals and large-scale events, and do a better job of marketing leisure tourism to visitors. For two dollars a night, paid by some-one else no less, that seems like a pretty good deal for a city and a state that—for all its unique cultural treasures—needs all the revenue it can get. If after 22 years of writing about ghost sightings and neurotic dogs, my sudden pivot to the topic of tax increases strikes you as self-serving, I’ll happily confirm your suspicions. Last year tourism-related businesses contributed more than $1 billion to the Louisiana economy, and one way or another, some of that trickles down to small businesses like ours. Flip through the pages of Country Roads and you’ll see many tourism-related businesses that choose to promote their attractions here. I’d like for them to be able to continue doing that, because it enables us to keep sharing the region’s best qualities with all readers—whether they live around the corner or across the world. Most Country Roads readers, like Zachary and the Feliciana’s voters, call Louisiana home. But tourism enriches quality of life for all of us who live here, too. Not only do we get more traveling festivals, concerts, exhibits and sporting events coming to town. Tourism sup-ports a wider variety of shops and restaurants, and a broader appreciation of our unique culture. So if you’ve ever opened a copy of Country Roads and learned anything about Louisiana or Mississippi that makes you feel proud to call it home, vote for this tax increase. It supports a statewide corps of warm-welcoming, jambalaya-cooking, festival-organizing, ambassadors who get up every day with the express intention of making us look our best. I’ve got twenty-two years worth of column-worthy stories to show for my time spent exploring this part of the world. I’m pretty sure that’s worth more than two dollars, and I hope you are, too.