Promoting Tourism Regionally

When it comes down to it, a successful tourism industry is about two things: good product and good marketing.  We’re lucky that we’ve got a lot of great product here in the region, both natural beauty-wise and great offerings from wine and food to sports and arts, etc.  But we also know that marketing hasn’t been a big strength, at least in terms of investment.  Until the state increased funding for tourism promotion from a budget of $3.7 million in 2007 to $7.1 million in 2008, we were 46th out of 50 states (and that’s gross, not per capita!). And I can promise you without even looking that we didn’t see a big increase in this past legislative session

Because state and local government budgets are so challenged, it’s no surprise that the industry is getting more serious about taking matters into its own hands. Both Pierce County and Snohomish County have recently begun work to create Tourism Promotion Areas (TPAs), where hotels above a certain size all agree to add a $.50 to $2.00 surcharge that gets pooled for joint marketing. It’s a pretty straightforward positive for all involved, although there are always going to be concerns about raising rates (particularly in a bad economy) and about return on investment by hotels in smaller jurisdictions (good ol’ subarea equity).

I actually see the biggest issue as inefficiency. Let’s assume that the marketing of Pierce and Snohomish County is targeted solely at tourists from out of the four-county central Puget Sound who would otherwise only stay/tour in King County. The Snohomish County TPA is going to be all about the wonders and joys of Snohomish County (Close to everything. Far from ordinary.) The Pierce County folks will do the same (Where Art + Nature Meet). But do we really want dollars spent fighting over the same people?

A better use of those funds would be to market “getting out of Seattle” as a overarching activity. Design a whole tour that involves the Museum of Glass, Bellevue Square Mall, the Future of Flight and a ferry ride to Bremerton. Could you get all of the region’s hotels (probably excluding Seattle, but maybe not) to buy into a joint TPA and use the money collectively? Worth looking into at least….

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