Washington state is missing out on tourism dollars | Don Brunell’s Business View

When we moved from Montana to Olympia 35 years ago, we saw enticing television and magazine ads for our neighboring states, but none for Washington. Fast forward to 2013 and nothing has changed. It was puzzling then, but even more perplexing today, considering the money and jobs at stake.

When we moved from Montana to Olympia 35 years ago, we saw enticing television and magazine ads for our neighboring states, but none for Washington. Fast forward to 2013 and nothing has changed. It was puzzling then, but even more perplexing today, considering the money and jobs at stake.

Tourism in our state is no small potatoes, it is big business. Visitors spent $16.4 billion in 2011 and accounted for 150,000 direct jobs, which is nearly twice Boeing’s workforce in our state. But our state invests no money — nothing, zippo, nada — in statewide tourism promotion.

Now, consider what Florida is doing. Last year, Florida’s legislature increased state funding for VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s tourism marketing organization, by 55 percent to $54 million a year.

It makes financial sense because tourism is Florida’s largest industry, employing more than a million people and accounting for 23 percent of its sales tax collections. In 2011, Florida welcomed 86.5 million visitors, generating $67.2 billion in direct economic impact.

Gov. Rick Scott (R), who pushed the enhanced tourism budget through the legislature, said. “This investment is good for Florida taxpayers because for every dollar spent on tourism marketing, VISIT FLORIDA generates $177 in tourism spending and $11 in new sales tax collections.”

Other states recognize what tourism adds to their economies, and some have learned the hard way what happens when you don’t sell your state to the traveling public.

For example, when Colorado lost its statewide tourism program in 1993, tourism dropped 38 percent in seven short years. In contrast, Michigan invested $30 million, which resulted in 10,000 new jobs and $43.5 million in new tax revenues.

Over the years, state funding for tourism in Washington has been a hit-and-miss proposition. In good times, legislators toss a few million to the travel industry, but when things get tight, tourism funding is one of the first things on the chopping block.

In 2006, the Legislature allocated a paltry $500,000 and got “SayWA.” It misfired. In short, we got what we paid for and even today, we live with that unfortunate stigma. In 2011, the Legislature defunded our state’s tourism office.

Stacked against the tourism budgets in neighboring Montana ($18 million), Oregon ($12 million), British Columbia ($55 million) and Idaho ($9 million), you can see why slogans like “SayWA” don’t resonate like “Beautiful BC” or “Big Sky Country.”

Over the years, Washington governors and legislatures have treated tourism as a marginal program, whereas most of the other states and provinces view it as essential to their economy. We whack it when budgets are tight. They don’t.

In 2011, when the state jettisoned the tourism office, the Washington Tourism Alliance formed to market Washington. The WTA wants the tourism industry, rather than the government, to fund those high-quality ads you see on the web, in magazines and on television.

To jumpstart the effort, WTA is asking the Legislature for $7.5 million in seed money. According to Kevin Clark, owner of Argosy Cruises in Seattle and WTA chair, “State involvement is necessary as both the short term funding and implementation of the long term self-assessment funding model will need to be approved by the Legislature.”

The WTA is modeled after California’s program where private industry partners fund 98 percent of that state’s tourism promotion.

The WTA notes that Washington families pay $400 less in taxes because of revenue generated from out-of-state visitors. As long as funding a tourism effort generates more revenue than it costs, the decision for legislators is clear: Washington can’t afford not to invest in tourism.

More in Business

Railroads implementing positive track

While the investigation continues into the deadly AMTRAK derailment near Dupont, the clock continues to tick on the implementation of Positive Track Control (PTC). The deadline is Dec. 31, 2018.

Keep the holiday spirit all year long | Don Brunell

During the holidays, our thoughts naturally turn to giving — not just giving gifts, but donating our time and money to charities, disasters and community programs.

Finding balance in occupational licensing

Recently, the Institute for Justice (Institute) determined state licensing barriers for lower-income workers and aspiring entrepreneurs not only hurts people trying to establish themselves in a profession, but annually drives consumer prices up by $203 billion.

Remember 1993

Twenty-five years ago, business took a beating in Olympia. The swing to the left in the 1992 general election was swift and potent. It drove higher costs to employers and more government regulations.

Remembering Ed Carlson, Vietnam POW

Since last Veteran’s Day, Ken Burns’ in-depth documentary on the Vietnam War has aired. It is a powerful reminder of an unpopular war in which many “baby boomers” fought and died.

Rural prosperity essential to Washington

While Seattle is growing rapidly, our rural areas continue to struggle. They don’t have the corporate giants such as Amazon, Microsoft and Boeing creating jobs and economic opportunities. Farms are predominantly family-owned.

Amazon’s plan reminiscent Boeing’s Chicago move

Last year, Seattle Times aerospace reporter Dominic Gates wrote about the similarities and differences between Boeing’s corporate office move to Chicago and Amazon’s plan for a second headquarters.

LiveLocal98022 meeting cancelled

Bob Green, the night’s speaker, notified the organization he couldn’t attend due to an illness.

Expanded Panama Canal among challenges for Washington Ports

The $5.4 billion spent to expand the Panama Canal is paying off for East Coast and Gulf of Mexico seaports; however, it is putting more pressure on the Northwest to remain competitive.

Players taking a knee hurting the NFL | Don Brunell

On a recent Saturday afternoon in Portland, a young woman stepped onto the playing field at the beginning of the University of Montana vs Portland State football game and started singing our national anthem. She immediately drew a blank on the words and briefly stopped, but as she started apologizing, the fans spontaneously took up the singing.

New metal collecting machine may clean up contaminated waters

There is a new machine being tested in Montana which could decontaminate toxic mine tailings while recovering valuable precious minerals for everyday use.

Workshop will focus on business, social media

All are invited to learn how social media can impact business and how it can be used to create a positive experience for customers.