As the calendar turns to July 1st, people will be in the midst of summer activities like making plans for weekend get-aways, family gatherings and trips to places near and far. Sadly, Washington State may be one of the destinations they will not visit in the future.
On July 1st, the Washington Tourism Office ceases to exist. While assets like the website and other marketing resources will be transferred to the new Washington Tourism Alliance (WTA), with just over $300,000 in resources, WTA does not have the revenue at this time to effectively market our state.
The fact is the average American is exposed to more than 3,000 branded messages a day. If you’re not part of that mix of messages, you’re not going to be top of mind when travelers make their plans. When they are looking at new destinations to visit, they’ll see the California advertisements with Betty White inviting them to visit. They’ll see Oregon’s full page co-op ads in Budget Travel, or Florida’s Facebook Sunshine Moments campaign.
There may be those who think Washington State will be fine without a coordinated state tourism marketing effort, that visitors will come anyway. Research shows otherwise. In 1993, Colorado eliminated its tourism marketing functions, cutting a $12 million promotional budget to zero. As a result, Colorado’s domestic visitor market share plunged 30% within two years, representing a loss of over $1.4 billion in tourism revenue annually. Over time, the revenue loss increased to well over $2 billion yearly. It took until the year 2000 for the industry to convince the legislature to reinstate funding with a modest $5 million budget. Research tracked the effectiveness of the state’s tourism campaigns over the next few years, and demonstrated an ROI of 12:1. As a result, in 2006, then Governor Bill Owens signed a bill upping the tourism promotion budget to $19 million and today they are near that amount. Here’s a short video that explains why marketing a destination is important.
Yes, Washington State has many priorities and demands on the general fund. But remember, the tourism industry is a net generator of about $1.0 BILLION in taxes that help to fund basic government services like education, transportation, public safety and health care. Tourism is the state’s fourth largest industry, with visitors spending in excess of $15 billion each year. It creates jobs for more than 143,000 of our citizens with an annual payroll exceeding $4 billion. Investments in tourism are investments in our state and local communities.
While this action does not directly affect the budget of the Yakima Valley Visitors and Convention Bureau, our region received considerable exposure through the Washington Tourism Office through cooperative marketing opportunities, familiarization tours of industry professionals, industry research, educational opportunities, a greater presence in visitor markets outside our reach and more.
So what do we do now? Tourism matters too much to our state to just idly sit on the sidelines. The focus at this time needs to be on getting elected officials and the tourism industry united behind a new funding model so we can be ‘back in the game’ and market Washington State. Short of that we’ll lose jobs and revenues for state and local coffers.
In the mean time, tell your elected officials that tourism is economic development and to support tourism efforts. Invite your friends and family to visit so we can sustain jobs and visitor revenues. Join and become involved in the Washington Tourism Alliance. Support your local destination marketing organization so they can do what they can to attract visitors. Every bit helps.
President and CEO