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One of the amazing views of the Old State Capitol, River Center, Galvez Plaza and the Mississippi River and Bridge from atop the new downtown library.

Advocate Staff Photo by PATRICK DENNIS

We join Visit Baton Rouge, the region’s chief tourism agency, to urge voters to approve a small increase in the local hotel room tax. It is on the Nov. 18 ballot in much of East Baton Rouge Parish. Early voting begins today and continues through Saturday of next week.

It is the second chance for this tax. The tourist agency proposed it, with some alterations in the district where it is levied, last fall. It was very narrowly defeated, with boosters feeling it got lost in the mix with several other parish tax propositions, including property tax millages that would have impacted voters' pocketbooks more directly.

This time around, the 2 percent hotel room tax would include most lodgings in the parish except for those around Metropolitan Airport. Those establishments are already paying an extra tax that goes into the Baton Rouge North Economic Development District’s coffers. The proposed hotel/motel tax is on a light ballot that includes a judicial runoff in Baton Rouge City Court and the runoff for state treasurer.

This year's version of the proposed hotel-motel tax wouldn't be levied in the cities of Zachary, Central and Baker, either.

The good thing about the proposed tax is that it would be paid by visitors to Baton Rouge, not local residents. Proceeds would fund enhanced tourism promotion in the city as well as upgrades to its major municipal arena, which is critical to luring more conventions and other events here. Is Baton Rouge in line with other smaller cities in its hotel taxes? Visit Baton Rouge President Paul Arrigo says it is, and that room taxes are not a large disincentive for travelers. “Baton Rouge is a very affordable destination,” he said.

Further, even softball or soccer tournaments are now seeking incentives from local tourist bureaus for the large number of motel rooms that they fill. The additional tax, if approved, would allow Baton Rouge to become more competitive in offering such incentives to get tourism business. 

One penny of the new tax would fund Arrigo’s agency in its effort to bring more events to the city. Another penny would finance a bond issue, typically paid back over 30 years, to fund needed renovations and improvements in the 40-year-old Raising Cane’s River Center arena.

Those are needed for concerts and other special events enjoyed by residents and travelers alike.

Competition for tourism is intense and getting more so all the time. It's an important part of the local economy, which is why we urge voters to support the new lodging tax in the Nov. 18 election.