Stakeholders say tourism bill needs another lead authority

People preparing to hike up Mount Rainier
Although HB 2924 would work to put Washington back on the map for tourism, stakeholders argue the legislation falls short when considering its program manager. Photo: Joe Mabel

Tourism agency representatives are finding fault with the lead agency listed in a House bill that would establish a statewide agency for managing tourism efforts. Although the measure would create a dedicated statewide tourism agency, stakeholders argue that the lead agency proposed by the bill is not a good fit.

HB 2924 would reestablish the Washington Tourism Marketing Authority to oversee statewide tourism marketing. The prime sponsor is State Rep. Cindy Ryu (D-32); there are no cosponsors.

The bill would require 0.2 percent of retail taxes on lodging, car rentals and restaurants to fund the statewide tourism marketing plan, with a July 2018 start date. The legislation also includes a mechanism for private-public investments, where $2 of private dollars would be matched with $1 of state funding.

In the Senate, SB 5251 received a January 30 public hearing in front of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. The legislation would also create the authority and includes slight differences in management.

In 2011, the Legislature decided to cut funding on the statewide tourism office, which left Washington as the only state in the nation without a dedicated statewide tourism authority. In its place, lawmakers directed the Washington Tourism Alliance (WTA) to manage statewide tourism efforts.

On January 30, Ryu told colleagues in the House Community Development, Housing & Tribal Affairs Committee that her bill was identical to others heard this session, except it requires that the State Parks and Recreation Commission serve as administrator over the statewide tourism authority. She argues that the agency has its own tourism program and would have the capacity to manage a statewide version.

“If we want to take a look at the wonderful work that they are doing with the cabins and the campgrounds and so on, and if we want to balance what we have going along in the Puget Sound area, we have a really vigorous market,” she said. “We have a lot of people coming, we obviously need some sort of a statewide program so that people throughout the world will know that we are here and ready for business.”

Ryu added the statewide tourism program should emphasize rural areas, where the state parks and other “gems” are.

However, tourism stakeholders testified in opposition to the bill because they believe Parks and Recreation would not be the best fit.

“Tourism is a part of economic development, generally, and we think that Commerce is a better place for that,” Becky Bogard, Lobbyist for WTA, told lawmakers. “Remember that rural areas not only have parks, but they have food and wine, they have other cultural attractions.”

Last year, the legislature approved $500,000 for a marketing program emphasizing rural economic tourism, rural tourism development, as well as international and outdoor recreation.

Bogard cited that fact: “In your budget, you approved the designation of a tourism sector lead in the department of commerce because that person would work not only with tourism entities…to incorporate tourism as part of their overall economic development program,” and added that Parks and Recreation would be part of the advisory committee for the program.

Shiloh Schauer is member of WTA and is the Executive Director of the Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce. “In Wenatchee, we utilize tourism as a way to tell our community story, and to attract not just visitors, but hopefully additional industry.

Schauer emphasized Wenatchee’s many outdoor recreation assets, ranging from parks to trails to water.

“We are on nature’s doorstep in so many different ways, but it is really the essence of community, and community comes from the great craftsmanship in our valley from winemakers to breweries to those who are doing arts and culture.”

Schauer said the Chamber is requesting that the legislation include a broader agency to oversee the statewide tourism program.

“We do value state parks and we do value their input in this effort, but really being able to look at an entire community and the economic impact of tourism throughout that community is really important.”

Representing lodging and restaurant businesses, Morgan Hickel, Government Affairs Manager for the Washington Hospitality Association (WHA), said: “We have some challenges with Parks and Rec administering this, not because they are not a great commission, they are just not the right fit.”

HB 2924 is scheduled for possible executive session on February 1.

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