Spokesman Review – It’s important to re-establish State’s tourism story

February 15, 2015
Cheryl Kilday

Here are a few facts about Washington that not everyone knows. Tourism is the fourth-largest industry in our state. Washington is the only state in the U.S. that does not have a robust tourism promotion program. Washington’s share of tourism growth has been below the national average for the past four years. We’ve been losing share of the tourism pie – to other states – since our Legislature closed the state tourism office in 2011.

Another important fact is this: Today, we are poised to fire up this economic engine again. Bills have been introduced – HB 1938 in the House, SB 5916 in the Senate– that would allow our great state to begin telling its story, once more, to travelers across the U.S. and in strategic markets overseas. Before we talk about what this means, it’s important to convey why this is all crucial to you and to everyone in the state.

When a visitor comes to Washington, we’re hosting a very special guest. Of course, every hotel, restaurant, shop, attraction, etc., wants to make the best possible impression on these VIPs because we want them to love us and to keep coming back. Why? Because it’s good for business and our quality of life.

When an out-of-state traveler spends money on a hotel room, they support that hotel and they pay room and sales taxes. When a tourist goes out to lunch, they support that restaurant and they pay sales taxes. When a tourist goes shopping, they support that store and they pay sales taxes.

When we talk about a tourist, we’re talking about an “imported taxpayer.” This might sound a bit mercenary, but think about it: Whenever you travel to another city or another state, you’ve just become an imported taxpayer, too.

This is why every state – except Washington – has a sustainable funding mechanism to support a statewide tourism promotion effort dedicated to attracting visitors. In 2013, the latest year with economic data available, tourists spent $17.6 billion in Washington. They contributed $1.1 billion in state and local tax revenues. Those are big numbers, to be sure, but closer analysis shows that those numbers aren’t where they should be.

Tourism spending – and, therefore, tax revenue and jobs growth – slowed in 2013. It’s expected that our upcoming data will show even less growth for 2014. This slower pace has been happening since that dark day in 2011 when the state tourism office was eliminated.

But there is most definitely light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s coming into view quickly. The time to act is now, and that’s why the Washington Tourism Alliance is making a final push toward re-establishing a robust statewide tourism marketing program. Only, this time it will be different from past state tourism efforts and unlike any in the rest of the country.

Washington tourism industry businesses will support the new nonprofit, private tourism effort. All the funding will be generated by the tourism industry itself through assessments and voluntary contributions. For the past four years, the WTA has been building the structure that will fund the program to market Washington to visitors. We’ve identified five different sectors – five different industries, to put it simply – that benefit directly from tourism: accommodations, attractions, food service, retail and transportation.

WTA has been working with the trade associations of each of these groups so we can come to an agreement for funding a state tourism marketing program. Individual businesses within each of these sectors will pay a small annual assessment to provide the funding.

It’s a new beginning – literally starting from zero in 2011 – to having a statewide program, four years later, fueled by solid private funding. It’s crucial that the entire state starts advocating for the entire state! We need to do the vital work of getting travelers to consider Washington. We want them to put Washington at the top of their “must-see” list. To visit our attractions, hotels, restaurants, shops – and cash registers.

So we are ready to take this very significant, crucial step. We are confident that by telling our story again, we’ll be able to increase travel to Washington. Visitor spending and tax revenues will grow. Jobs will increase. Tax revenues will increase. We’ll gain greater attention from businesses considering relocation. It makes good – no, it makes great – business sense to promote to the world one of our greatest assets: the State.