Monday, September 20, 2021
Sept. 20, 2021

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In Our View: Let’s Pay to Boost Tourism

Six years after shuttering state office, it’s time we invest again in luring visitors

The Columbian
Published:

While it is not infallible, there is some truth to the axiom that you need to spend money to make money. And one of the areas in which it is applicable is the industry of tourism.

After all, luring visitors from abroad does not simply happen by accident. It requires a little prodding through advertisements and promotions, through reaching out to people who are deciding how and where to spend their vacation dollars. With the allure of the Olympic Peninsula or the geological wonder of Mount St. Helens or, more locally, the appeal of the Columbia River and Fort Vancouver and Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington is primed for attracting visitors and enticing them to leave behind some of their money. Because of that, a pair of bills in the Legislature to revive the state’s tourism office are worthy of consideration.

In 2011, lawmakers seeking to trim the state budget eliminated the state tourism office. This was understandable; the Great Recession required that hard decisions be made. But, notably, it left Washington as the only state without a publicly funded tourism office. Since then, the nonprofit Washington Tourism Alliance has filled in some of the gaps, raising funds from stakeholders and being staffed by volunteers while doing what it can to promote tourism in the state.

With tourism ranking as Washington’s fourth-largest industry, accounting for more than $20 billion a year in direct and indirect spending and employing thousands of people, attracting people to the state requires a more concentrated effort. House Bill 1123 and its companion, Senate Bill 5251, would restore state funding for a tourism office by diverting 0.1 percent of retail taxes from lodging, rental cars, and restaurants. That would be expected to generate $5 million per two-year budget cycle without raising taxes. In order to use the sales-tax money, the Washington Tourism Marketing Authority would have to raise matching funds from private and public sources at a 2-to-1 ratio.

The funding for the proposed tourism authority points out the benefits of promoting the industry. Much of the revenue would come from out-of-state or international visitors who pay sales tax but use little of the services that sales tax goes toward. According to Business Insider, Washington is the 25th most popular state to visit (California, Florida, and Nevada are the top three), and the guess is that with a bit of investment, it could pass No. 24 Indiana and move up on the list.

As Rep. Cary Condotta, R-Wenatchee, the lead sponsor of HB 1123, told The Associated Press: “It’s time for the state to keep up. If I didn’t think it was going to return two, three or four times as much, I wouldn’t put it out there. But I am more than convinced based on the data that it is the best return we can get.”

To that end, the marketing authority would be tasked with promoting tourism throughout the state but emphasizing visitor-dependent rural counties along with recreational opportunities. The fact is that Seattle does not require any promotional help to lure tourists, and Sen. Dean Takko, D-Longview, said: “There’s natural beauty all across the state, not just in Seattle. We want to get people to the state.”

That is a worthy goal that can benefit cities and counties that often find themselves in the shadow of Seattle, and it should be viewed as a worthy investment that will pay dividends. Because sometimes you need to spend some money in order to make money.

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