Hoteliers aim to raise rooms' advertising assessment

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldSeptember 24, 2013 

Tri-City hoteliers want the Kennewick, Richland and Pasco city councils to allow them to increase an assessment used to advertise the area as a tourism destination.

The increase of the per guest room fee from $1.50 to $2 is necessary to stay competitive, supporters told the Kennewick City Council on Tuesday.

The Tri-City Regional Hotel-Motel Commission, which includes representatives from the three cities and hotels, already unanimously approved the increase to the tourism promotion area assessment.

But it now needs approval from all three cities to go into effect, said Kris Watkins, Tri-Cities Visitor & Convention Bureau president and CEO. The information will be presented to Richland and Pasco councils in the next few weeks.

"It does come down to dollars and cents when you are advertising your destination," she said.

The higher assessment would generate an additional $280,000 a year, said Monica Hammerberg, general manager of Red Lion in Pasco. The increase would go into effect Jan. 1.

With the additional 50 cents per guest room, the revenue from the tourism promotion area assessment will grow to a little more than $1 million, Watkins said.

The increase will allow the Tri-Cities Visitor & Convention Bureau to hire two new employees -- one to focus on sports marketing and another on wine tourism, said Hammerberg, who represents the Tri-City Red Lions on the hotel-motel commission.

The bureau also will increase advertising and trade show participation, Hammerberg said.

The Tri-Cities has a hotel occupancy rate of 62.1 percent, Watkins said.

Spokane's rate is 62 percent and it is stepping up efforts to attract visitors, which means the Tri-Cities also needs to be aggressive, Watkins said. Spokane voters recently approved paying for an expansion of their convention center and a new 700-room hotel is planned, she said.

Not having the Jehovah's Witnesses convention in the Tri-Cities next year and the decline in government travel make it more important than ever to market the Tri-Cities, Hammerberg said.

The commission hopes the proposed increase will not only preserve the Tri-Cities' current level of visitors, but also draw more, she said.

Most of the destinations the Tri-Cities competes against are already charging the $2 fee, Hammerberg said. The Tri-City assessment has not increased since it was approved in 2004.

Hoteliers approached the bureau about increasing the fee, Watkins said. The maximum allowed is $2.

City Councilman Greg Jones said since the hotels are willing, it's a good idea to approve the increase to keep the Tri-Cities more competitive.

The proposal will come to the council at a future regular meeting for a vote.

-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; kpihl@tricityherald.com

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