The upcoming budget cycle could ultimately set the stage for privatizing tourism promotion in Pennsylvania.
In his 2013-14 spending proposal, Gov. Tom Corbett maintains level funding at $5.8 million for tourist marketing.
However, a portion of those dollars is expected to be used to facilitate the creation of a public-private partnership known as the Pennsylvania Tourism Partnership.
That entity would be tasked with developing a plan to transition promotional responsibilities from the state-run tourism office to a private-sector organization with some element of public funding, said Rob Fulton, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Association of Travel and Tourism.
PATT is an umbrella organization created last year to facilitate broader industry concerns and advocate for change. One of its primary objectives has been to get the state out of the travel promotion business.
"The idea is that DCED is committed to helping us by providing seed money to get the partnership up and running," Fulton said of the proposal, referring to the state Department of Community and Economic Development.
DCED oversees tourist and business marketing in Pennsylvania.
The goal would be up to $1 million in seed money this year, Fulton said. The plan is then to hire a project director and establish a board of directors, made up of industry professionals.
Fulton said he expects that won't be accomplished until at least July 1, the start of the new fiscal year.
DCED spokesman Steven Kratz said the financial contribution for the partnership will be determined during the budgetary process.
The project director position would be funded through the tourism line item in the budget, Kratz said.
That person would be part of a collaborative effort to craft a transition plan. That group includes the state tourism office and DCED, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Team Pennsylvania Foundation and members of the industry.
"This is something the industry has talked about for more than 25 years," Kratz said.
Fulton said he envisions a two- or three-year transitional period with continued investment from the state to build a funding base. PATT has made it a priority to seek out much larger private funding sources, he said.
The goal would be at least $15 million to $20 million per year, maybe $25 million, Fulton said.
"We see ourselves just supporting it, making sure there is a sustainable funding source so we can have the dollars we need," he said.
Privatizing tourism takes the politics out of the equation, Fulton said.
"This isn't a business for government to be in," he said. "I think the biggest thing is having the private sector at the table and having greater ability to have input into what they are doing in their own regions and counties. We feel that's been missing."
This effort will put the responsibility on the industry and its experts to market and promote accordingly to solidify Pennsylvania's position as a desired travel destination, he said.
"I think it's been frustrating not to have a consistent approach with state messaging," he said.
On the other side of the equation, the governor has proposed adding $5 million to the business marketing line item — pushing it up to $5.9 million — and increasing the World Trade PA program by $2.4 million.
The latter promotes Pennsylvania exports in key international markets and works to attract foreign investments. Most of the increase is directed to a new initiative aimed at increasing international business development activities, according to the governor's proposal.
"This is a step in the right direction to make sure we have tools available to essentially tell our story," Kratz said. "The governor is doing a great job to improve the business climate. But without marketing dollars, you don't know if the whole story is being told."
One of this administration's goals is transforming Pennsylvania's image as not being business friendly, he said.
"We are open for business," he said.
In the past, the business marketing dollars have been used by the agency to advertise in trade publications, to create brochures and investment profiles and to market to site selectors for out-of-state companies, Kratz said. He mentioned the life sciences and technology industries as key interests.