Students craft plans to increase Tri‑Cities millennial tourism

By Becky Kramer, Carson College of Business

COVID-19 turned the team project in Joan Giese’s Marketing Management 495 class on its head.

The assignment required students to develop strategies for bringing tourists in their 20s and 30s to the Tri-Cities in Central Washington. But as the project got underway, the state’s “stay home, stay safe” orders took effect.

“Last semester, we had a very devastating external factor, and that was the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Giese, clinical associate professor of marketing at WSU Tri-Cities. “The impact on the tourism industry has been astronomical.”

Responding to the crisis became a learning opportunity, Giese says. Her class rose to the challenge, crafting plans to draw millennials to the Richland-Kennewick-Pasco area as Washington’s economy reopens.

Visit Tri-Cities, the area’s visitor and convention bureau, will incorporate the students’ ideas in its future planning, says Michael Novakovich, the president and chief executive officer.

“We’re all seasoned marketers here, and we think the students did some really outstanding work,” said Novakovich (’10 Bus. Admin., ’16 MBA). “They identified some things we are already working on, validating our efforts. And they had unique ideas as well.”

Tourism is a $500 million industry in the Tri-Cities, employing more than 6,300 people. The area is home to wineries, golf courses, live music venues, art galleries, and tours of the Manhattan Project B Reactor and the decommissioned USS Triton submarine.

With 269,500 residents, the Tri-Cities has a competitive advantage for attracting tourists as Washington’s phased reopening continues, according to Novakovich. “We offer urban experiences without the high-population densities people want to avoid at this time,” he said.

Drawing on the Tri-Cities attributes

Students suggested ways for Visit Tri-Cities to increase the area’s allure for millennial travelers. Among their recommendations:

By offering activities and spaces for children, wineries can become family destinations for travelers.
Social media is an important way to reach millennial audiences, and Visit Tri-Cities can capitalize on that through the use of social media influencers and hashtags, contests, and raffles to promote user-generated content that can be shared and reposted.
The “Tri-Cities” label may not resonate with people from other parts of Washington. Helping define what the Tri-Cities is could increase the area’s draw for travelers.
Creating a Tri-Cities Pass would open prospective tourists’ eyes to the area’s attractions, while offering a discount for bundling activities.
Before Washington’s “stay home, stay safe” order went into effect, Novakovich took the class on a bus tour of the Tri-Cities. “I was flabbergasted by all of the stuff you could do—I felt like a tourist in my own town,” said, Abraham Mendoza (’20, Bus. Admin.), who grew up in Pasco.

He and teammates Valexa Hernandez, Valerie Long, Brittany Stanton-Dameron, and Cade Timmons crafted a Tri-Cities Pass for 20-something, cost-conscious travelers. It included options such as kayaking or paddleboarding on the Columbia River, a visit to the B-Reactor, a wine cruise, local cuisine, and a farmers’ market.

“We combined what we thought were the Tri-Cities’ main attractions and made it easy for people to purchase a pass to go do those things,” said Long, a senior from Richland. The students hope the Tri-Cities Pass becomes a reality.

“If they put something like this together,” Long said, “I’ll definitely be buying it.”

Exposing students to the tourism industry
Besides benefitting Visit Tri-Cities, the students’ ideas will be shared with the Washington Tourism Alliance, says Andi Day (’91 Hist.).

Day is the vice chair of the alliance, a nonprofit that promotes Washington’s tourism industry, and executive director of the Long Beach Peninsula’s Visitors Bureau. She’s also the initiator of the class project on destination marketing, which she suggested at a Carson College National Board of Advisors meeting.

“We welcome opportunities to expose students to the tourism industry and this facet of marketing,” Day said. “It was great to get their perspectives as well.”

Day was particularly interested in the students’ Tri-Cities Pass. The alliance is working on a similar passport idea to promote in-state tourism as COVID-19 related restrictions ease.

“One of our campaigns is about exploring your own backyard,” she said. “We’re fortunate to live in a really beautiful state, and we see it as a way to promote safe travel. We can direct tourists to less crowded areas, away from large events to safer activities.”

Newly Released State Tourism Statistics Mark Stunning Decline from Coronavirus Between 2019 and 2020

Impact Underscores Role of Industry as Economic Driver During Recovery

Olympia, Wash. – Figures released today by the Washington Tourism Alliance (WTA) indicate that tourism in Washington State logged double digit growth during the past five years – generating $10.9 billion in direct state GDP in 2019 alone – before the industry’s near total shut down in 2020 due to COVID-19.

     Visitor volume, expenditures, tax contributions and tourism jobs all increased in 2019, according to Economic Impacts of Visitors in Washington State, compiled by national travel research firm Tourism Economics for the WTA.  Visitor volume increased by 2.0 percent last year to a total of 110 million visitors in the state, and direct visitor spending totaled $21.9 billion, up 4.5 percent in current dollars over 2018. On average, visitors spent $60 million per day in Washington State last year.

     However, Washington State has experienced a dramatic decline in tourism in 2020 due to the global pandemic. Since the beginning of March, visitor spending in Washington has declined by $3.8 billion compared with last year’s figures. Traveler spending in Washington has averaged losses of 77 percent over the past 12 weeks. Hotel room revenue alone has declined 72 percent between March 1 and May 23. And in April alone, Seattle Tacoma International Airport experienced a decrease of 93.6 percent in passenger volume, compared with April 2019; international traffic decreased 97.1 percent and domestic traffic decreased 93.1 percent.

     “Our state’s tourism industry has been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19,” said WTA Interim Executive Director David Blandford. “That impact was sudden and severe in every industry sector and immediately undercut funding for nonprofit destination marketing programs needed to jumpstart economic recovery and sustain jobs.”

     Continued loss of tourism jobs in Washington remains a major concern – in the tourism industry and beyond. The state’s tourism industry supported more than 165,000 jobs in 2019, an increase of 2.3 percent over the previous year, and these jobs generated direct income of $5.7 billion. While these tourism industry jobs represent 3.5 percent of all jobs in the state, the economic activity supported by visitors supports a total of 5.1 percent of all jobs in Washington.

     This year, COVID-19 has acutely damaged employment in Washington State’s travel sector, according to Tourism Economics’ analysis. Job losses within the leisure and hospitality sector represented 42 percent of all job losses in the state through the end of April. Through the week ending May 16, there have been 1.2 million unemployment claims in Washington. This implies over half a million jobs lost in the leisure and hospitality sector.

     “Because such a large share of job losses are related to travel, an economic recovery can only come through a restoration of travel to and within Washington state,” said Adam Sacks, President of Tourism Economics.     

     The loss of taxes paid by visitors also deeply impacts the tourism industry, as well as Washington citizens and cities and counties throughout the state. Each household in Washington would need to be taxed an additional $1,065 to replace the visitor taxes received by state and local governments last year. State and local taxes, generated by direct visitor spending, tallied nearly $2.4 billion in 2019, a 5.4% increase over 2018.

     Transient occupancy taxes (lodging taxes) – which have quickly declined amid the pandemic – are imposed in all of Washington’s 39 counties (by both counties and many cities within) and revenue derived from lodging taxes supports tourism related facilities, events and marketing. The severe shortfall in lodging tax receipts has also deeply impacted the state’s non-profit destination marketing organizations (DMOs) with drastic reductions to tourism marketing programs and staff layoffs of 30-70 percent.

     “While a full recovery will likely take several years, we’re hopeful that a rebound in travel and tourism can begin in earnest this summer, and accelerate as we move into 2021,” said Blandford. “Our industry is prepared to do its part by promoting safe and responsible travel, but investment in tourism marketing and recovery is critical to its ability to recover visitor volume, expenditures, tax revenue and employment for our state,” said Blandford.

     This is the first year that the WTA has collaborated with Tourism Economics to compile its annual state visitation report. In addition to this benchmark 2019 report, The WTA asked

Tourism Economics to include a five-year look back report to ensure consistency in annual reporting. According to the reports, between 2015 and 2019, Washington State achieved double digit tourism growth. Visitor spending increased 4.8 percent per annum between 2015 and 2019 and tourism employment saw cumulative growth of 15 percent.

Washington State Tourism Research Snapshot

2019 Tourism Impact

  • Visitor volume increased by 2.0 percent last year to a total of 110 million visitors in Washington in 2019
  • Direct visitor spending totaled $21.9 billion, up 4.5 percent in current dollars over 2018
  • On average, visitors spent $60 million per day in Washington State in 2019
  • Statewide, the tourism industry supported more than 165,000 jobs in 2019, generating $5.7 billion in direct income
  • State and local taxes, generated by direct visitor spending, tallied nearly $2.4 billion in 2019.  Each household in Washington would need to be taxed an additional $1,065 to replace the visitor taxes received by state and local governments last year

2020 Impact of Covid-19 on Washington State Tourism

  • Since March 1, visitor spending in Washington has declined by $3.8 billion compared with last year’s figures
  • Traveler spending in Washington has averaged losses of 77 percent over the past 12 weeks
  • Hotel room revenue alone has declined 72 percent between March 1 and May 23
  • In select cities and communities hotel occupancy has dropped in to the single digits
  • Transient occupancy taxes (lodging taxes), which are imposed in all 39 counties (by both counties and cities) have quickly declined amid the pandemic
  • The dramatic loss of lodging taxes will impact destination marketing organizations, as well influence city and county governments budget and expenses statewide
  • For the month of April 2020, Seattle Tacoma International Airport experienced a decrease of 93.6 percent over April of 2019.  International traffic was down by 97.1 percent and domestic passenger traffic dropped 93.1 percent
  • As of April 30, job losses within the leisure and hospitality sector represented 42 percent of all job losses in the state
  • Through May 16, there have been 1.2 million unemployment claims in Washington, which represents over half a million jobs lost in the leisure and hospitality sector

About the Washington Tourism Alliance

The Washington Tourism Alliance (WTA) is a 501[c]6 organization established by industry stakeholders with the sole mission of sustaining Washington State destination tourism marketing. The WTA procures and administers funds for state destination tourism marketing activities and creates and implements a strategic statewide destination marketing plan. www.watourismalliance.com

WTA Media Contact: Mike Moe (425) 444-0589/mike@watourismalliance.com

COVID-19 Webinar 5-1-20

On 5/1/20 the WTA hosted a webinar around the response to the Covid-19. Over 300 tourism professionals from all over Washington State participated.

The webinar featured the new Interim Executive Director, David Blandford who discussed tourism spending trends. David was joined by 3 industry experts

Jon Snyder – Governor’s Senior Policy Advisor, Outdoor Recreation & Economic Development. Jon gave an update on the Governor’s most recent order and what it means for the tourism industry in Washington.

Chris Green – Assistant Director, Office of Economic Development and Competitiveness. Chris outlined the resources available to tourism-related businesses in Washington.

Anthony Anton – CEO of the Washington Hospitality Association
Anthony previewed guidelines that are being developed for the hospitality industry to safely and responsibly reopen their doors to tourists.

To view a recording of the webinar, click here.

Covid-19: Business Resources

Dear Partners:

The tourism industry in Washington and throughout the world is facing an unprecedented crisis. While we’re hopeful that our state can slowly begin to open in May, but the return to normalcy will be counted in years rather than months. The WTA remains committed to doing everything possible to keep our partners and industry stakeholders connected to the resources they need to navigate this crisis. We are continuing to work with industry leaders to remind legislators about the importance of tourism to our economy and to craft guidelines to safely reopen tourism-related businesses in our state.

Here is an updated list of links to help you find the resources you need:

Federal Resources CARES Act: This toolkit provided by US Travel helps tourism-related businesses and organizations navigate the full CARES Act. US Travel also has provided a helpful FAQ about the CARES Act.

  • Paycheck Protection Program (PPP): Congressional leaders and the administration forged an agreement to supplement the program. The $481 billion agreement provides an additional $321 billion for the PPP, $60 billion for the EIDL program, $75 billion for healthcare providers and $25 billion to expand testing capacity (including $11 billion for states to increase testing).
  • SBA Debt Relief: The SBA is providing a financial reprieve to small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. This covers all principal, interest and fees on current and new SBA 7(a) loans made through September 27, 2020 for up to six months.
  • Express Bridge Loan: The SBA’s Express Bridge Loan allows small businesses that have an existing business relationship with a participating lender to access up to $25,000 quickly.

Small Business Development Centers: These centers will help you navigate available SBA loans and provide you with no-cost business consulting.
Export Credit Insurance: This program protects you in case your customers overseas are slow on paying receivables or go out of business. It allows you to commit to export sales without fear of loss during the pandemic.


State Resources

  • On 4/27 Governor Inslee announced easing of outdoor restrictions.
  • The Department of Commerce has created a list of COVID-19 Business Resources.
  • Small Business Resiliency Assistance: offering technical assistance for small business owners from culturally and historically disadvantaged communities.
  • Small Business COVID-19 Back-to-Work Planner: (Part 1) is designed to help plan the steps necessary to open your business once the state says it’s safe to do so.
  • Humanities Washington Grant: Humanities Washington is honored to provide rapid-response funding to humanities and cultural non-profit organizations in Washington State facing financial hardship as a result of the coronavirus. Funding for this grant is provided by the CARES Act and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
  •  Washington Hospitality Association: A coronavirus resource guide for the restaurant and lodging industry.

If you have questions or other resources, please don’t hesitate to communicate with us. Contact Mike Moe at mike@watourismalliance.com.

WTA Names David Blandford as Interim Executive Director

The Washington Tourism Alliance (WTA) announced the appointment of David Blandford as its Interim Executive Director, effective May 4, 2020. Blandford will lead the organization’s marketing activities in addition to a growing range of initiatives related to COVID-19, including tourism industry recovery and crisis communications.

“David has in-depth knowledge of Washington tourism, the current challenges we face, an optimistic, pragmatic view for the future, and excellent relationships with our stakeholders here in the state as well as across the country and internationally,” said Shiloh Burgess, WTA Chair. “He is the ideal person to take the helm for the WTA at this time, having served on our Board of Directors since 2012 and as Co-Chair since 2018.” He joins veteran WTA staff members Mike Moe, Managing Director, and Diana Thibado, Director of Operations. The team of three will lead WTA marketing and operations with a concerted emphasis in COVID-19 tourism industry recovery and business mitigation.

“We’ve had the opportunity to closely work with David as Co-Chair over the past two years,” said Moe. “We’re excited about the continuity of his leadership and the future of the WTA.” Blandford was part of the industry group that fought to preserve state tourism office funding in 2009-2010 and inaugurated the Washington Tourism Alliance to re-establish tourism funding after the tourism office closed in 2011. 

A 30-year veteran of the tourism industry, Blandford brings extensive marketing, communications and public affairs experience at the local, state and national travel and tourism industry levels. He began his industry career running press trips across Washington State as part of a contract with the state tourism office. In his tenure with the Seattle News Bureau and Visit Seattle, Blandford worked extensively with the state tourism office and the private sector industry to promote Washington State and its various destinations in both domestic and international markets. 

He most recently served as Senior Vice President, Public Affairs at Visit Seattle, 2017-2020. He previously held several other positions with the organization including Vice President, Communications and Director of Public Relations. During his tenure, he gained extensive experience with destination marketing, brand development, destination research, consumer and industry social media, web site development, blog creation and management and photography and video production. 

Blandford led PR missions in European and Asian tourism markets and worked in tandem with a broader travel trade team in the city, state and with partnering states. He wrote Visit Seattle’s crisis communications plan and managed events and business recovery initiatives related to WTO, the Nisqually earthquake, 9/11 and the 2008 recession. 

He is a long-time member of the U.S. Travel Association’s Communications Committee, actively supporting and defending the national travel and tourism industry through policy, public affairs and communications. Blandford is a current member of Destination International’s Advocacy Committee and a 20-year member of the Society of American Travel Writers and Public Relations Society of American, serving in various leadership roles with both associations. 

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” said Blandford. “This industry needs support, and we’ll need to find new ways to promote and sustain travel during the ongoing COVID-19 issue. I’m committed to both, and to working with our industry partners.”

WTA Member Email 4/20/20

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis, our industry has been severely impacted. Through our research, we know that visitation to Washington is down over 70% and this doesn’t include the loss of business from our in-state customers.  And we’ve heard from so many of you and understand the significant challenges you face.

For many years, the WTA has relied on our amazing members for support and we can’t thank you enough. As a token of our appreciation, we would like to offer those who have paid their 2020 membership dues a credit for advertising on ExperienceWA for the dollar total of your membership. This credit can be used at any time in 2020 or 2021. Contact me at mailto:mike@watourismalliance.com or at 425-444-0589 to learn more. For those who have not paid for membership this year, we completely understand that you need to prioritize your business and employees during this crisis. We will extend your membership through the rest of 2020.

Additionally, the WTA will continue to provide the most up-to-date information on how businesses can utilize federal and state resources to stay afloat during this crisis. Make sure to regularly check our industry website, watourismalliance.com for the most current information. In the meantime, we would like to give you an update on what the WTA is actively working on to provide support to our members and industry stakeholders.

The WTA recently launched a new website called showWAlove.com that gives Washingtonians a chance to support their local tourism-related businesses by purchasing gift cards now for later use. This project is completely free for businesses and users and so far close to 1000 businesses have been listed. If you offer an online gift card and would like to set up a free listing, just go to showWAlove.com and click on Post a Listing or click here. It only takes 2 minutes. If you don’t have an online gift card option, but want one, click here to quickly and easily make one.

Please continue to communicate with the WTA and your regional DMO partners. Our industry has never faced a challenge like this, but if we work together and use our collective ingenuity, we will come out of this stronger than ever before.

Covid-19: Utilizing the US CARES Act

3/31/20

Dear Partner, 

On March 27th, the President signed into law the “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act” (the CARES Act), the largest economic relief act in our country’s history. The tourism industry in Washington has been devastated by this crisis, but tourism-related businesses can find relief through new or strengthened existing federal programs as a result of this legislation.

Click here for a helpful guide to relief is available to different types of businesses or organizations.

Click here for an explanation of the Small Business Administration Coronavirus Economic Injury Disaster Loans. *Grants of up to $10,000 is available within three days, regardless of approval: A cash advance (grant) of the loan, up to $10,000, can be provided to the borrower upon request. SBA is required to provide the grant within three days of receiving the loan application. The grant is provided regardless of whether the borrower is ultimately approved for the loan and does not have to be repaid. 

Click here to learn about Small Business Express Loans. These are for small businesses who need quick a one-time loan for a major expense. Example: A restaurant needs to replace a walk-in refrigerator. 

Click here for a guide on the Emergency Stabilization Fund. 

Click here to learn about Economic Relief for Airports and Tourism, including Community Development Block Grants.

Here is more information on Business Tax Provisions including payroll tax deferral. Click here for more information.

It is expected that the U.S. Treasury, Small Business Association and other agencies will need some time to fully implement these resources and application features, though it is hoped that most will be operational in the next two weeks.

The Washington Tourism Alliance Launches showWAlove.com

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 30, 2020

Media Contact:
Christina Pivarnik
(360) 531-0127/christina@pivarnik.com

The Washington Tourism Alliance (WTA) today launched showWAlove.com, a new online program to help support local Washington businesses during the COVID-19 crisis. Data from national tourism research firm Tourism Economics estimates that 4.6 million U.S. travel industry jobs may be lost by May 31 – roughly 40 percent of all tourism-related jobs. That constitutes more than 75,000 jobs in Washington State and means local restaurants, hotels, attractions, tour operators, and destination marketing organizations will bear the brunt of these losses.

Buy Now. Play Later.

While social distancing restrictions are in effect, the showWAlove.com offers a platform for Washingtonians to help hard-working business owners and employees. People can support their favorite local businesses by purchasing gift cards for future use. They can search for restaurants, lodgings and retail establishments by region or type of business and then connect with that business to buy gift cards.  

Business Assistance

Hundreds of businesses have gift card offers on showWAlove.com and inventory continues to grow. Businesses that don’t currently offer gift cards will be able to learn how to expand their online presence on the showWAlove.com website through webinars and additional resources. The WTA is committed to helping the small businesses in Washington use every tool available to get through this uncertain time.

“Recovery has to begin now,” said David Blandford, WTA Co-Chair. “This is just one initial measure of support and others will follow. We hope this program can help stabilize businesses and preserve jobs. Together we can show Washington’s tourism industry love during this unprecedented crisis.”

About the Washington Tourism Alliance

The Washington Tourism Alliance (WTA) is a 501[c]6 organization established by industry stakeholders with the sole mission to develop and sustain Washington State destination tourism marketing. The WTA procures and administers funds for state destination tourism marketing activities and creates and implements a strategic statewide destination marketing plan. www.watourismalliance.com

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Postponed: 2020 Industry Summit and Economic Outlook event

Unfortunately, the WTA, along with our partner Central Washington University, has determined it prudent to postpone the 2020 Industry Summit and Economic Outlook that was scheduled to take place on April 3rd, 2020 in Wenatchee. Due to public health concerns surrounding the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19) and the impact on small and large tourism businesses, we are exploring all options to hold the event at a later date. We made this decision out of an abundance of caution, hoping to minimize travel and personal interactions for speakers and attendees in order to best protect the health of those who planned to attend.

Those of you who paid online should have already received a full refund and those who sent checks will be refunded shortly. Any plans to reschedule will be announced as soon as possible. Thank you for your understanding. 

Please click here to find industry resources related to COVID-19.