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Tourism fueling Bryan-College Station economy

By KELLI LEVEY

Eagle Staff Writer

Tourism is a key component of the local economy, providing jobs and tax dollars for Bryan-College Station and elevating the quality of life for residents.

That was the message Wednesday from Barry Biggar, president and CEO of the Bryan-College Station Convention & Visitor Bureau, as he led a celebration of National Tourism Week.

Biggar said tourism creates a payroll in Brazos County of $46.6 million for 3,270 employees. Without tourism, the county would have received $222.6 million less in income and $3.8 million less in taxes last year, he said.

Besides the direct influx of income, the tourism industry has helped the area’s economy by creating jobs, supporting businesses and boosting tax revenues.

“Tourism has an impact not only on the economic growth of our area but also for the quality of life for the people who live here,” Biggar said.

For instance, a new attraction such as a zoo or a water park would need the support of the area’s residents but it also would need to attract out-of-towners.

“Visitation is what keeps it vibrant,” he said. “For instance, I wonder if the George Bush [Presidential] Library would be here if we didn’t have people come visit it from outside this community? They just celebrated their one millionth visitor, so I tend to doubt it.”

Bureau officials also announced the winners of the Fourth Annual Postcard Contest. Bobby Kucera won in the 6- through 12-year-old category; Brian Jones won in the 13- through 18-year-old category; and Linda Stribling won in the adult category.

Each winner received four tickets to Six Flags Arlington and hotel accommodations at the Hampton Inn in Arlington. All the entries will be used in the bureau’s promotional materials, and postcards will be printed from the winning entries.

This year’s contest attracted 57 entries and more than 400 votes, the most ever.

After the program, Biggar outlined some of his goals for the organization. He said since the bureau branched off on its own, separating in October from the Bryan/College Station Chamber of Commerce, its entire focus has been on tourism and providing services to visitors.

“Now we can market in a more unbiased way,” he said. “As a member of the chamber, we were more restricted to working within the membership. Now we’ve opened it up to include the whole Brazos Valley.”

The bureau’s employee base has expanded to 11 now that it has taken in the Brazos Valley Sports Foundation.

Biggar plans to improve the visibility of the bureau’s University Drive building and redirect its advertising campaigns toward individuals.

The bureau is funded by hotel/motel taxes from Bryan and College Station, and Biggar said his program’s success can be measured by increases in attendance at area attractions and in rooms rented.

“We will prove our worth by our impact on those areas,” he said. “It should be easy to track.”

The Bryan City Council awarded an increase in this year’s budget Tuesday in response to Biggar’s request.

The council originally had lowered its $100,000 annual allocation to the bureau by $33,000 in anticipation of building a visitor center on William Joel Bryan Parkway. City officials recently learned state funding will not be available for the program for at least another year, said economic development director Kevin Walker.

College Station contributes almost $1 million to the bureau’s annual budget.

• Kelli Levey’s e-mail address is klevey@theeagle.com

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