When money gets tight, our state’s leaders have to make some tough choices. That often means cutting budgets and, in some cases, eliminating programs altogether.
Those decisions can have consequences that are known and unforeseen. One of the biggest budget tragedies for our state’s economic health was the decision by the Legislature to eliminate the state tourism office in 2011 as a cost-cutting measure.
That made Washington the only state in the union without a statewide tourism marketing program.
Tourism is big business, and while that move did not have much impact on visitors to Seattle, it effectively killed any promotion by the state of more rural destinations, ours included.
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Our state lawmakers have finally seen the error in the decision to cut the marketing funds for our state’s fourth largest industry, and have introduced legislation in the House and Senate to create an industry-led Tourism Marketing Authority. It would receive performance-based funding without implementing new taxes.
The move could have huge economic rewards.
Tourism generates $1.8 billion in local and state taxes each year and provides 170,500 jobs. The industry also is the largest employer of women and minorities. An investment in tourism should increase its return to the state.
“Washington is the only state in the union that does not have a statewide tourism program. With this legislation, a small investment by the state should see double or even triple the return from the tourism industry. It is a great way to raise revenue without raising taxes,” said Rep. Cary Condotta, R-Wenatchee. “We should see a boost to our tourism industry and economy. It is time to get the word out about our great tourist destinations.”
The measure seems destined to pass, with bipartisan support in the House and Senate. It contains some key provisions for success.
While it would be an industry-led entity, the TMA would have oversight from an independent board of tourism representatives and state lawmakers. Other key members would come from state agencies like Parks and Recreation.
The main marketing emphasis would be to get visitors to rural parts of the state, “emphasizing outdoor recreation opportunities designed to attract international tourists, crafted by a non-profit entity representing the geographic and cultural diversity of the state’” according to the Washington Tourism Alliance, an industry group formed in the wake of the state’s elimination of the tourism office in 2011.
And, probably most important to the fiscal-minded, would be that the funding would come from 0.1 percent of general sales taxes collected on retails sales of lodging, restaurants and rental cars, and would be deposited into the Statewide Tourism Marketing Account. The state’s investment would be limited to $5 million per biennium and require private matching funds prior to being used.
The total that could be spent on tourism marketing in a biennium would be $15 million. That’s really peanuts when it comes to state spending, but it sure beats nothing.
We hope our lawmakers get this measure passed quickly. Funding would begin July 1.