Revitalizing statewide tourism efforts

Lake Chelan
Two companion bills moving through the legislature would once again create a statewide tourism authority. Photo: Mournlight

Two state lawmakers from central Washington are expressing the need for statewide tourism marketing, as they say Washington is overshadowed by other states’ efforts. On the horizon are two companion bills which re-create a statewide authority to help bring in more tourists and pump additional revenue into small businesses and local economies.

In 2011, the Legislature cut funding to the statewide tourism office due to budgetary cuts. Six year later, State Rep. Cary Condotta (R-12) told Lens that there has been a noticeable market share change and it is past due to reinstate efforts to promote Washington as a travel destination.

“We tend to think that our tourists move within the state…but we are not getting the people from out of state that we should be getting,” he told Lens. “They are going to Montana…. Utah…California where they (states) spend tens of millions of dollars on these advertising programs.”

Condotta is the prime sponsor of HB 1123, which would create the Washington Tourism Marketing Authority to oversee the statewide tourism marketing plan. Under the bill, 0.1 percent of the sales tax collected on car rentals, restaurants and lodging would fund the implementation of the plan. The bill has not yet received a public hearing this year.

Its companion, SB 5251, was sent to the Rules Committee on Feb. 26. That measure would take 0.2 percent of sales tax to fund statewide tourism efforts. The Senate has approved and fully funded the effort in its operating budget. The House budget also includes funding for the Authority, however it is currently held on the floor.

“The good thing about this program is that it’s really going to help the entire state,” said Condotta. “I think the beauty of Washington is that it has so much variety, so much change. You can go to one state and see it all.”

He added that Washington has much to offer, including the Olympic Peninsula, Hoh Rainforest, San Juan Islands, eastern Washington’s deserts and various wineries across the state. His own district is home to Lake Chelan, Leavenworth, Methow Valley and Mission Ridge.

Condotta said that the 12th district’s second-largest industry is tourism, which directly influences the stores, small businesses and rental companies handling housing, equipment and car rentals.

“Everything revolving around tourism will benefit and it’s mostly in the smaller towns like Chelan and like up in Methow Valley. If they didn’t have tourism, they wouldn’t have much of anything.”

Condotta said HB 1123 is not a spending bill when you look at the return in investment, where the program should give back a return of three to four times the investment in two years.

Also beneficial is the two-to-one match of private-public funding.
“I think it’s a great investment,” Condotta continued. “We have money on the table, this is the time to get it going and just keep building that revenue line.”

Also from the 12th district is State Rep. Mike Steele (R-12), who is Executive Director of the Lake Chelan Chamber of Commerce. He agreed the legislation would work to put Washington back on the map for tourism efforts compared to the rest of the country.

“We are losing market share on a daily basis,” he told Lens. “You’ve got places like Oregon and California spending millions and millions on tourism, and Washington is spending zero dollars outside of local jurisdictions.”

He added that the Chamber was fortunate to have a large operating budget to promote its tourist sites. Where the statewide tourism office had less than $1 million to spend on overhead, administrative costs and marketing, the Chamber spent $1.3 million on direct marketing.

Steele said the statewide marketing efforts should focus on working with feeder markets like Texas, Maine and California to encourage travel to Washington.

He also said that the sales tax goes up when people who come to the state end up purchasing a second home. Those taxes are then used to pay for roads, hospitals and schools, lowering the amount the local community would have to pay.

“I think a state tourism office is essential…I don’t know why it’s taken so long to recognize the need, so hopefully this year will be the year to change that.”

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