Turn your back on tourism and the entire state will suffer. That’s the message from the Washington Tourism Alliance, who says its funding and its future are now on the chopping block in Olympia.
It was two years ago when budget cuts closed the state tourism office for good. The move made Washington the first state in the country with no state money to promote itself to visitors.
To help fill the void, stakeholders in the tourism industry came together to form the Washington Tourism Alliance.
The WTA is now in charge of running the state tourism website, printing 375,000 copies of the annual visitors guide, and trying to compete with neighboring states.
Executive Direct Louise Stanton-Masten admits, it hasn’t been easy with such limited funding.
“Those of us that live here understand what this state has to offer, and we want to communicate that to potential tourists,” she said.
She said it’s difficult to compete with nearby states, like Montana — whose tourism market budget is drastically higher than Washington’s. For instance, Montana can afford building-size billboards, now popping up all over Seattle, that invite visitors to check out that state.
The WTA’s plan is to find a longterm funding source. In the short term, though, they’ve asked state legislators for about $1.2 million, to get them through the next two years.
Stanton-Masten says they were hopeful when that money was included in Governor Inslee’s proposed budget.
Then, on Wednesday, it was cut from the state senate’s proposed budget.
“The future is a little unknown because of that,” said Stanton-Masten.
Without that $1.2 million in funding, she says the state visitors guide, among other things, is at risk.
“Does it concern me? Yes,” said Kevin Clark, who owns Argosy Cruises in Seattle.
He also serves on the board for WTA, because he believes in what they do and says projects like the visitors guide make a difference to tourism-based businesses like his.
“Anything you can get into the hands of potential visitors, whether its the published tour guide, whether its going online downloading and reading that same content, is important,” he said. “Most people choose to travel based on something they’ve seen or read or heard from a friend.”
Now, the WTA is asking its supporters to contact their legislators, and petition them to restore the WTA funding. No final decisions have been made.
To put things in perspective, consider this: state likes Oregon, Montana, Idaho, and California all have tourism budgets between $10 and $60 million.
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