CAPC workshop focuses on JackRabbit reservation engine

Thursday, August 1, 2019

By Samantha Jones

Citizen.Editor.Eureka@gmail.com

The Eureka Springs City Advertising and Promotion Commission was all about JackRabbit at its regularly scheduled workshop Wednesday, July 24.

Damon Henke, interim director of the Greater Eureka Springs Chamber of Commerce, addressed the commission's recent history with JackRabbit, an online reservation search engine currently offered by the chamber. Henke said he asked finance director Rick Bright if the chamber could purchase a banner on the CAPC's website promoting JackRabbit, and Bright said the CAPC doesn't sell banners to keep everything fair.

Bright said anyone who would like to advertise their lodging business on the website can purchase a rotating ad for $750. The ads are randomized to ensure all advertisers are treated the same, Bright said, and tax collectors are supported by the commission. Henke said he wasn't asking for a banner anymore.

"I get the problem we run into with that," Henke said, "but predominantly that's what the visitors want to see. They want to have the ability to put in dates, search and see what's available."

JackRabbit compares all available lodging for a specific date, Henke said, so lodging businesses that don't have any availability show up at the bottom of the page. Henke said 44 lodging business have a listing on JackRabbit, made available by the chamber. The chamber pays $10,000 to offer the service, Henke said, and lodging businesses that choose to participate pay $240 per year.

"We've dropped that price," Henke said. "It was $425. I asked [JackRabbit] to come down on our costs, and we passed all those savings along to the users of JackRabbit."

The CAPC had considered paying $27,000 to offer JackRabbit to tax collectors in 2014, Henke said, but it was tabled.

"It makes sense to have it at the CAPC level," Henke said, "but you would have to pick up the tab for the whole service. We never crossed that bridge."

The commission considered partnering with the chamber on JackRabbit in 2017, Henke said, when the CAPC said all tax collectors would have to be part of the service if the commission were to foot the bill.

"It got derailed," Henke said. "At this stage, we're just saying we want for $750 to put a box like all the other lodging properties that says, 'Easy access to availability.' We're not asking for anything other than to buy our way onto the website."

Commissioner Terry McClung asked how JackRabbit would be represented on the website, and Henke said he'd prefer a banner. Without being on the banner, Henke said, JackRabbit would reach much less people.

"That kind of limits us to being just like any other lodging property," Henke said. "We're honestly not trying to confuse people and get them from one site to another. We're just trying to get them the best lodging search with availability dates in front of their face."

Of the 44 lodging business on JackRabbit, asked chairwoman Carol Wright, how many are tax collectors?

"That's a really good question," Henke said.

Bright said 15 of the businesses on JackRabbit are located outside of city limits, which means 29 of the 44 are tax collectors.

"If those 15 now wanted to be on our site, we would be charging them $750," Wright said, "so instead of them paying $750, they'll pay a certain amount on your site and have access to the button."

"That's correct," Henke said.

Commissioner Debbie Reay said the visitors are the ones who pay taxes.

"We've been saying we need to remember the tax collector status we have, but our guests are the ones paying it," Reay said. "Why wouldn't we just want to put the banner on the sites we manage so the guests can more easily have lodging there?"

The reason the commission is opposed to putting a banner on the website, said commissioner Susan Harman, is because it's not fair to tax collectors.

"If I'm a guest coming to town and I decide I want to make a reservation and I go to the chamber site," Harman said, "yes, I can put my dates in there and it will run it. Problem is it's not going to be a representation of all tax collectors."

She continued, "You'll have some people that will go there and that will be it. Therefore, the other pages the tax collectors are listed on that are not using JackRabbit will not get hit. Their hits will go down, because the majority of people will go to that banner."

The ads have always rotated on the website, Harman said, to be fair to tax collectors.

"They will come back and say, 'How many of these people are not tax collectors?' " Harman said. "Your tax collectors are going to be extremely upset, because many of them will never get hit if they are not paying the fee to be on JackRabbit."

The only fair way to do it, McClung said, is for the CAPC to foot the bill for everybody. Bright said that would cost $27,000.

"Everybody would like to make it as easy as possible to book lodging in Eureka Springs," Wright said, "if we could do that in a way that's fair and particularly keeping in mind the people that collect taxes for us."

Bright said he's looked into the legal side of acquiring JackRabbit, saying government entities aren't supposed to give money to booking properties.

"That's not what the government does," Bright said.

Bright reiterated how important it is to keep the ad content fair on the website.

"The reason they are randomized is to give everybody the same shot," Bright said. "If you just put JackRabbit in there and they put in their dates, my property is static on the bottom. I don't have the same shot as the person on the top."

McClung said everyone seems to want to find a way to offer comprehensive lodging information to visitors.

"There's got to be a way to hammer it out," McClung said. "I'd like to see it hammered out for our next budget. I don't think we've got anything here that's solid enough to try and do yet."

Henke said the chamber is happy to pay for the rotating ad while the commission figures the rest of it out, and Bright said he would be OK with that.

"I don't have a problem with it being in the mix while we work on seeing if we can get them all on there," Bright said.

The commission's next regular meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 14, at The Auditorium.

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  • Kudos to Ms. Harman and Mr. McClung. It looks like theyíre actually trying to watch the cityís purse strings on the CAPC (and the on the City Council). Itís about time someone did. Obviously, the CAPC canít legally acquire the Jackrabbit contract, but even if they could, why would they? If itís so successful, why would the chamber want the CAPC to take over the financial responsibility? The answer is that itís obviously not successful. The taxpayers shouldn't have to come to the rescue. If most lodging establishments havenít signed up, thereís a reason. If the CAPC unburdened the chamber this time, what's to stop them from coming back in two years with another bad idea they need to unload. Make them be accountable. Spend our tax dollars wisely. The argument that ďitís not really your money because your guests pay itĒ is specious. In a town that depends 100% on tourism, ALL tax money is paid by our guests and the high rates makes Eureka Springs an expensive place for a tourist. Weíre not Las Vegas. Letís stop the hemorrhaging of tourism over the past decade plus and concentrate on growing it. Hire an agency that does this for a living, knows what theyíre doing, has done it successfully and will give you measurable performance standards. Something that hasnít existed before other than the, mostly unassociated, shifts in tax receipts. It also means you spend every CAPC tax dollar on bringing them in and not on things that are of no direct or indirect benefit to them.

    -- Posted by outofthebox on Fri, Aug 2, 2019, at 2:13 PM
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