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Behind the list with Rob Fulton

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Rob Fulton is president of the Pennsylvania Association of Convention & Visitors Bureaus. Photo/Stuart Leask
Rob Fulton is president of the Pennsylvania Association of Convention & Visitors Bureaus. Photo/Stuart Leask

president of the Pennsylvania Association of Convention & Visitors Bureaus

After more than a year of discussions between travel and tourism organizations across the commonwealth, the Pennsylvania Association of Travel and Tourism was incorporated at the end of February.

Pennsylvania Association of Convention & Visitors Bureaus President Rob Fulton is leading the nonprofit effort, which is expected to replace his organization this summer.

The Business Journal spoke with Fulton recently about the transition and need for the new association. Total economic impact of the Pennsylvania tourism industry was pegged at $32.9 billion in 2009.

Q: Why does the tourism industry need another association?
A: We feel like we really need a stronger voice for tourism in Pennsylvania. We want to create an umbrella tourism association that will work with other associations we have so tourism issues will be at the forefront and we'll be more proactive (in addressing them).
There are about 16 different tourism associations, and all of them are focused on very specific niche issues. We are missing that organization that can coordinate all activities. We're such a diverse industry.

How is this organization different? What is the model for advocacy?
It is an advocacy organization driven by membership of various organizations in Pennsylvania that are tourism-based. We will be the facilitator of bigger, broader issues. The other associations do a great job on their own specific issues, but a lot of times there are issues that come up, and they need to be addressed. Because an issue falls out of the purview of a specific niche, it probably doesn't get addressed.

We will advocate and bring all other partners to the table and set a tourism agenda. We envision a 25-person board that is made up of all different aspects of tourism. There is not really an organization or a board that is comprised of such a diverse group.
The (Pennsylvania Association of Travel and Tourism) is an evolution of our organization. We are expanding our board and mission. Eventually, it will become one organization. We're going to look to expand our board and bylaws.

How is this funded and what is the operating budget?
The budget is being developed. Our current budget (at the PACVB) is about $300,000. We're mostly funded through membership and professional development programs — conferences that drive revenue back to us.

The Pennsylvania Association of Travel and Tourism initially will be funded by our members. We also have been raising money through a tourism advocacy fund, which is a fundraising effort to raise additional dollars to get the PATT up and off the ground.
We're hoping to find other seed money like grants. It's hard to say what the budget will look like. We are hoping to grow our resources to lobby and advocate (for the industry).

How big is this association? Who are the members, and what do they pay to join?
Annual base membership for an organization is $395. One of the things we want to do is incentivize. We want them to be a member of their own organization or county visitors' bureau first. If they are members (of those organizations), there is a $100 discount.
Our own members will not pay into two organizations. July 1 is the target to be officially up and functioning. We will be operating as both organizations to some extent.

What are the biggest policy issues you will be working on to benefit the tourism industry?
There are three main things. One is the decrease in (state) tourism funding. When I started in 2007, there was about $32 million in the state budget for tourism. Some went to the state tourism office and some to county visitors' bureaus in the form of grants.

Marketing and promotion dollars are huge (to this industry).
This year there is only $3 million (proposed) for the state tourism office and no grant programs. We have a legislative bill — House Bill 2056 — introduced that would create a Pennsylvania Tourism Commission, a public-private tourism partnership. Instead of the state tourism office, it would be a public-private with a board who advocates for tourism. Tourism could be privatized. Rather than state administered, (this would) create consistency.

The second issue is the post-Labor Day school start. We want schools to start post-Labor Day. It really impacts the tourism industry when high school-age kids have to leave early and go back to school. It decreases opportunities for them to have a job and learn life skills. It is difficult on the tourism industry. A lot of families take their last vacation before school starts.

The third issue is really working on the continuation of the hotel tax. Each county assesses the hotel tax. We want the dollars to stay locally and help visitors' bureaus and other partners to market and promote. Those dollars are important. Sometimes there is a temptation for those dollars to be diverted. We will work to try to ensure (those dollars) are still used for tourism-related activities.

About Rob Fulton

Since August 2007, Rob Fulton has been president of the Pennsylvania Association of Convention & Visitors Bureaus. He is president of the newly formed Pennsylvania Association of Travel and Tourism, which will replace the PACVB. Previously, he was president of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce Executives.

Fulton graduated from Penn State Harrisburg in 1996 with a bachelor's degree in public policy.

The 44-year-old lives in West Hanover Township. He is married with a 10-year-old son. His hobbies include running and golfing.

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