To the Editor:
Tourism drives growth - it is the economic engine for Lee County and Boca Grande. The tourist tax is the fuel for that engine. Any changes could have a long-lasting impact on an already challenged local economy.
I ask your assistance in taking immediate action to oppose the changes to government per diem rates.
Lee County receives approximately 5 million visitors per year, equaling $2.5 billion in economic impact. Additionally, 52,313 people in Lee County are employed in a tourism-related business.
Following the General Services Administration conference scandal, the federal government is continuing to consider proposals that would reduce federal travel budgets and potentially harm the travel industry. One proposal under serious consideration would reduce per diem rates in major travel markets by roughly 30 percent. This could have significant and long-lasting economic impacts in government and private sector business travel.
Each year, GSA adjusts the lodging per diem rates in 400 separate markets in the United Statees by using Smith Travel Research data for mid-scale/mid-price hotels. GSA calculates the lodging per diem for each market by using the average daily rates of independent, mid-scale, upscale, and upper upscale properties over a one-year period from April to March of the previous two years. By eliminating "upper upscale hotel rates" from the data used to calculate the lodging per diem, the government would reduce the absolute amount it is willing to reimburse a federal employee for lodging.
This would have wide-ranging impacts on business travel across the United States and especially in Lee County and the state of Florida.
While the GSA conference scandal focused on federal meetings and conferences, a lowering of the lodging per diem rate would impact government group and transient travel. Because private sector companies and government contractors routinely base their reimbursement rates on the government per diem, revenue from private sector business travel could also significantly decline over the next year.
I urge you to oppose action to change the government per diem rates. Although they haven't made a decision yet, they are planning on releasing next fiscal year's rates on time, which means that a decision is imminent.
Contact your senators, representatives and the GSA regional administrator in your area immediately to express your concerns about a plan that will significantly reduce per diem rates nationwide. Important contacts include:
GSA Regional Administrator Shyam Reddy, regional administrator, (404) 331-3200;
Rep. Thomas Rooney, (202) 225-5792;
Rep. Connie Mack (239) 573-5837;
Sen. Bill Nelson (202) 224-5274; and
Sen. Marco Rubio (239) 213-1521.
'Lee County Visitor and Convention Bureau