It’s big enough news that other states are noticing – Washington State is now the only state in the nation without a tourism office.
Tourism is Washington’s fourth-largest industry. The Department of Commerce reports that tourists spent more than $15 billion in the state in 2010 (and in turn generated nearly $1 billion in tax revenues). Of course, people all over know about the Space Needle, or the Fremont Troll, or the fish throwers in Pike Place Market. One thing that can fly under the radar is how important tourism is to Washington’s rural counties. In six of the state’s counties more than 10% of jobs are travel related – all rural counties. So sure, people elsewhere know many of the things Seattle has to offer, but do they know that they can pair their bustling urban visit with a relaxing trip to some wineries, maybe climb a mountain, or visit a rain forest?
Compared to other states, the budget for the Washington State Tourism Office was relatively small at $1.8 million in 2010. In 2011, Oregon is spending $10 million, Montana is spending $14 million, and California is spending $50 million. So, what effect will this have on the state’s tourism? A recent New York Times article highlights a similar situation that happened in Colorado. In 1993, the state’s tourism office closed up and didn’t reopen until 2000. Tourism in the state still hasn’t risen to the national share it had before the closure. Al White, the current head of Colorado’s tourism office states “It’s really difficult to affect market share positively, but it’s really easy to affect it negatively if you’re not out there.”
So, will Washington State not be “out there”, and begin to lose ground to neighboring states who are getting their messages out? In response to the loss of the tourism office, private businesses are trying to step in and fill the gap. The Washington Tourism Alliance (WTA), a nonprofit organization formed by a number of tourism related businesses, is looking to continue the work of the Washington State Tourism Office – which includes taking control of the Experience Washington website. The WTA is still working on a funding model for the organization, but it will likely come from membership fees and/or assessments. As reported in the Seattle Times, a push is happening in Seattle to charge a $2 per-night room tax in downtown hotels with more than 60 rooms – a move supported by hotel owners. Revenues from this tax would be used to fund advertising to promote travel to Seattle. These funding models are similar to what other areas do, including California and British Columbia.
Regardless of whether promotion is done directly by the state or through private partnerships within the state, it’s a good idea to keep Washington in the minds of those out of state tourists. And it’s important that they know which Washington. Not that one – Washington, the state.