Eye on Hospitality: Getting Washington on Track with Tourism

Eye on Hospitality: Getting Washington on Track with Tourism https://wahospitality.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/watourism0117a.jpg

By Paul Schlienz

Tourism matters, and the statistics prove it.

In 2014, domestic and international travelers spent $15.7 billion in Washington state. 113,100 jobs were created by travelers to Washington, representing 4.5 percent of the state’s total private employment. For every $1 million spent in Washington by domestic and international travelers, 7.2 jobs are created.

And the hospitality industry, representing lodging and restaurants, is, of course, a major beneficiary of this job creation.

Nevertheless, Washington, despite all it offers for domestic and international tourists, is the only state in the union that does not have a state-funded tourism program.

The reasons for this lack of a state tourism program are budgetary. Currently, the Washington State Legislature is under a court order to develop a plan to fully fund K-12 public education – an issue that is eclipsing all others during the 2017 legislative session.

“Getting people to see the real value of tourism when they are under such pressure to tighten belts is difficult,” said Stephanie McManus, the Washington Hospitality Association’s media relations/communications advocacy manager, said. “For every dollar spent in Washington, $25 is returned in new visitor spending.”

Washington, however, could be getting even more benefits from tourism. By comparison, in Oregon, which has a state-funded tourism program, every $1 spent $237 is returned in new visitor spending.

Indeed, it is penny wise and pound foolish for lawmakers to shortchange tourism when budgets are tight.

“We’ve got evidence, state after state that have cut [tourism] budgets quickly begin to lose market share, lose jobs, lose economy as a factor of 10, 20 and 30 of what they cut,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association.

Tourism impact on Washington state supports what Dow is saying. Without the jobs generated by domestic and international travel, Washington’s 2014 unemployment rate of 6.2 percent would have been 9.5 percent of the labor force.

“We have been working with the Washington Tourism Alliance and others to get a plan in place, so we came up with some legislation we felt would do that,” said McManus. “We were also participants in a work session on how we can better find a way for tourism to be funded in our state, so there are real bills and we really are working on them.”

House Bill 1123, sponsored by Rep. Cary Condotta, R-East Wenatchee, and its companion Senate Bill 5251, sponsored by Sen. Dean Takko, D-Longview, are the vehicles for bringing full funding for a state tourism program. The bills establish a tourism marketing authority through the state that is funded two to one by private employers and the state. Around $5 million dollars would be allotted to tourism out of the general fund budget.

The Washington Hospitality Association is working hard to remedy Washington’s lack of a state-funded tourism program. Part of its program to raise awareness of tourism’s importance among lawmakers and the public was a well-attended Washington Tourism Summit, on Jan. 24, in Olympia, featuring the U.S. Tourism Association’s Roger Dow as its keynote speaker.

Word is definitely getting out about tourism’s importance to Washington’s economy.

“We’re really not making use of our assets by not having a tourism program,” McManus concluded. “If we can get that through it will be great economically for all of us.”