New Research Indicates Modest State Tourism Growth

Olympia, Wash. – Preliminary figures released today by the Washington Tourism Alliance (WTA) indicate that tourism in Washington State improved slightly in 2015, but inconsistently throughout various counties in Washington and comparatively slower than the state’s overall taxable sales growth.

“The research underscores the importance of maintaining the WTA’s current marketing programs, which include the Washington State Visitors’ Guide and destination website,” said WTA Board Chair Cheryl Kilday. “It also points to the need for a long-term, industry led and funded tourism marketing program.”

The total number of overnight person-trips (39.4 million) increased by 3.1 percent in 2015, similar to the preceding year, according to preliminary data compiled for the WTA by Dean Runyan Associates in the report State Travel Impacts & Visitor Volume 2000 -2015.

Direct visitor spending in Washington was $20.7 billion in 2015, up 5.4 percent in current dollars over 2014. This compares with 6.8 percent growth in overall state taxable sales during the same period, according to figures released by the Washington State Department of Revenue.

WTA’s new research also reported on tourism employment and tax revenue. The travel and tourism industry supported more than 170,500 jobs in 2015, up 3.8 percent from 2014. Local and state travel-generated tax revenue was $1.8 billion, an 8 percent increase over 2014; this is equivalent to $650 in tax revenue for each Washington household.  This includes $1.2 billion in tax revenues directly related to the purchases of visitors and $610 million in tax revenues attributable to travel industry employees and businesses.

“Robust worldwide travel, combined with the individual tourism marketing investments of the state’s major cities, port districts and private sector companies, have helped buoy our industry for the past five years since the state tourism office closed,” said Kilday. Nevertheless, WTA officials worry about loss of tourism market share in the absence of a legislatively approved, statewide industry funded long-term marketing program.

“Seattle, Spokane and other destinations with local tourism promotion areas (TPAs) have raised marketing funds to offset the loss of statewide funding when the State tourism office closed five years ago, but our research continues to suggest that this cumulative return is not enough for our state as a whole,” said WTA Executive Director Louise Stanton-Masten. “The WTA strategy for funding a statewide tourism marketing program is essential to benefit the entire state.”

For example, while total direct visitor spending increased by 5.4% overall for Washington State last year, when King County is excluded the statewide increase is only 2.5%. “Our latest research illustrates the disparity of tourism impacts in eastern and western Washington,” Stanton-Masten said. “Annual tourism spending growth and tax revenue varies greatly between counties in eastern and western Washington, as well as urban and rural areas.”

Senate and House bills supporting WTA’s tourism marketing funding plan were introduced in Olympia this session with significant support, but ran out of time for approval during this year’s short session. Plans are underway to continue the approval process in the next session.

Since the closure of the state tourism office in 2011, the private, non-profit, industry-led WTA has operated on a minimal budget. Competing western state tourism budgets ranged from $7-$50 million last year.  The WTA continues to operate this year with minimum funding provided by membership and corporate sponsorship, but with no supplemental funding from Washington State.


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.