Last year, Washington became the only state to close its state tourism office. As state Sen. Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, said at the time, "When you're taking kids off health care and raising tuition, you have to make some tough decisions." Our editorial opinion that summer was one of many regrettable-but-necessary stances we've taken during the nation's worst economic catastrophe in seven decades.But we also saw the loss of the state tourism office (at the time, funded to the tune of about $2 million, previously by as much as $7 million) as a call to action. Our editorial in 2011 opined that "we're embarking on a whole new system of privately funded tourism promotion, and for taxpayers in an economic crisis, that could be a great conversion."
Much of the call to action has been answered by statewide private-sector groups such as the Washington Tourism Alliance. Local groups, too, have responded, and the Vancouver USA Regional Tourism Office is certainly doing its part. Recently the local office unveiled its new website — Visit Vancouver USA — and there are several things we like about the online resource.
First, note the spiffy appearance. Once potential tourists or convention planners hit this website, they'll find an alluring front page with a bold announcement: "No other city in the Pacific Northwest offers such a combination of colorful history, recreational activities, charming shops, extraordinary eateries, a burgeoning wine region, affordable attractions and charming hospitality."
Hyperbole? Perhaps a little, but the overall menu of local attractions is an attention-getter, and as for any doubters, well, come visit and fact-check the claims for yourself.
The website also offers a Visitor Guide, Top 10 Reasons to Visit, and a variety of services for increasing convention business, assisting local businesses with travel marketing and helping visitors find their way around the area.
Second, we also like this aggressive approach to pull up the slack after the state pulled out of tourism promotion. The nonprofit organization is funded by a $2 per room per night charge at local hotels that have at least 40 rooms. In 2011, that room charge (common in the hospitality industry) yielded $942,568 for the regional tourism office.
Third, we like the "VancouverUSA" in the website name. Never hurts to differentiate the older, better Vancouver from the upstart Vancouver in Canada.
Fourth, the local tourism office nurtures economic development in multiple ways, such as strengthening its subsidiary Vancouver USA Regional Sports Commission.
These are the types of efforts that, together, will sustain Washington tourism efforts through these hard times.
Cynics will make two arguments: that our state's tourist attractions (especially the natural treasures) are so well-known, they don't need any promotion; and that our state already is so crowded, we don't need to be giving other folks any ideas about moving here. But the greater reality is that tourism ranks as one of the state's leading industries. In 2010, visitors to the state spent $15.2 billion.
So the cynical view is quickly obliterated by the financial impact. Washington needs those big bucks that visitors bring.
Besides, visitors are fun. Remember, many local folks — including a lot of longtime residents — didn't grow up here. Something brought us here. Countless more will follow, many with fat wallets.