Sad Day in Washington State

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.

John Cooper

President and CEO

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World Tourism Day Theme Announced

GlobeThe United Nation World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) announced today World Tourism Day 2011 will be held on 27 September 2011, and will be celebrated under the theme Tourism – Linking Cultures, an opportunity to highlight tourism’s role in bringing the cultures of the world together and promoting global understanding through travel.

“The message on this World Tourism Day is that, thanks to tourism, millions of people from different cultures are being brought together around the world like never before,” said UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai. “This interaction between people of different backgrounds and ways of life represents an enormous opportunity to advance tolerance, respect and mutual understanding”.

In 2010, 940 million tourists travelled to a different country, coming into direct contact with tangible – art, monuments – and intangible – music, food, traditions – culture. World Tourism Day 2011 is a celebration of this unique interaction and aims at furthering understanding of the values of cultural diversity.

World Tourism Day 2011 will also draw attention to the importance of preserving and promoting the cultures of the world in all their forms. Culture, which compels millions of tourists to travel and spend, is of immense value in itself, but is also a vital tool for the development of a sustainable tourism sector. As such, it must be thoughtfully managed and protected, as set out in the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism which states that: “Tourism policies and activities should be conducted with respect for the artistic, archaeological and cultural heritage, which they should protect and pass on to future generations”.

“Culture is one of our most precious assets and needs protecting. As we launch World Tourism Day 2011, I call on all people to conduct tourism in a way that preserves and enriches the cultural wealth.

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Tourism and Travel Trends Column

Here’s my column that appeared today in the Yakima Herald Republic:

In late May, I attended the U.S. Travel Association’s International Pow Wow in San Francisco. It’s one of the largest international travel trade shows, with nearly 3,000 people from around the world conducting business, selling travel products and promoting destinations. It’s also a great event to get the pulse on current and future tourism-related trends.

Many things can affect the tourism industry, from unstable governments to natural and man-made disasters, but there are general trends that are shaping the future of tourism and travel. The good news is that inbound international visits are on the rebound. Last year, the United States hosted a record 60 million international visitors, generating more than $134 billion in receipts. The Department of Commerce is projecting that the U.S. will see average growth of 5 percent to 7 percent in international tourism over the next five years.

While countries like Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom and Japan will remain top countries of origins, inbound visitors from China, Brazil, India and Australia will grow. This is good for the country as well as Washington state, as international visitors spend an average of $4,000 on their vacations here.

It goes without saying that technology has already changed the travel industry, from computerized reservations to how we make travel plans via the Internet. The current wave influencing travel decisions is social media — Facebook and Twitter, plus public review and user controlled websites like TripAdvisor, WikiTravel and Yelp. Surprisingly, research shows that simple e-mail continues to be a powerful means that people use to discuss favorite destinations and activities. Word-of-mouth has always been paramount in helping people decide where to go and what to see. Now, it’s just gone online.

From a business perspective, this trend is important on two fronts. First, quality products and exceptional service will generate positive cyber-word-of-mouth and could result in more business. Second, business owners need to utilize and embrace these resources to monitor what is being said and to actively interact with consumers. In social media, if you snooze, you’ll lose.

Another trend is that Americans are traveling. Because of the economy and media outlets, there’s been a misconception that people are doing nothing more than “staycations” (a hackneyed phrase that I think was coined by a bored reporter).

The fact is that while many Americans changed their travel due to economic conditions, there is a pent-up desire to travel. That statement is supported by a recent USA TODAY/Gallup Poll that found more than six in 10 Americans say it’s important to get away from home this year — with many finding ways around higher gas prices, airfares and hotel rooms. The survey found that 71 percent of those who tend to travel expect to spend more on travel costs, while 44 percent plan to pay more for food, lodging and entertainment. Europe may be off the list, but places within a day or two drive may be more of the norm, which is good for the Yakima Valley as we are within a day’s drive for more than 5 million people in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. And if it’s a wet summer “over there,” count on the sun seekers to come in numbers.

The next generation traveler is also an interesting factor in the future of tourism. Right now, baby boomers are a solid market with more than 75 million in their ranks. But coming up are the next generations like Generation X (born in the mid-1960s to 1980) and Millennials (those born in the 1980s and 1990s). Their travel interests and demands vary greatly from boomers. They are far more technologically in tune, often plan at the last minute, are less likely to be brand loyal, seek culturally authentic experiences and rely on their friends and networks for ideas of places to go and things to do.

John Cooper

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Let’s Attract International Visitors

I just had a chance to review the U.S. Travel Association’s policy position paper called Ready for Takeoff. It contains more than 30 recommendations for Congress and the Department of State that will increase international travel to the U.S. According to the report, if the government were to implement these proposals, the measures would help create 1.3 million new jobs by 2020. As the report states, “increasing travel to the United States is the most effective form of economic stimulus—supporting communities, injecting billions into the U.S. economy and creating millions of new American jobs.”

The U.S. Travel Association believes a comprehensive, four-step plan can help the United States achieve our goal of becoming more competitive in the global travel market, which in turn will expand exports, create new jobs and drive economic growth. They state “We believe security and efficiency are compatible. With better planning, budgeting and use of technology, our visa process can be secure, effective and competitive.”

Makes sense. As we ramp up new U.S. tourism marketing efforts, we have to be ready to welcome those visitors and make it easier for them to enter our country. Measures like streamlining visa applications, adding more countries to an existing visa waiver program and improving operations at government agencies while sustaining public safety will help grow our economy by attracting more international visitors. And guess what, if we don’t do it, those visitors will go elsewhere. I hope our elected officials pay attention to their recommendations.

John Cooper

Planners Luncheon Held

Today the departments of the Yakima Valley Visitors and Convention Bureau hosted an appreciation luncheon for more than 60 customers and planners on the Yakima Convention Center Outdoor Plaza in downtown Yakima. The purpose of the lunch was to

  • Show appreciation to these invaluable clients for their business,
  • Encourage them to continue to keep their business in Yakima Valley
  • To bring new events and meetings to town and
  • Showcase the Outdoor Plaza as a venue for their events

The event was a combined effort of the VCB, Convention Center and Yakima Valley Sports Commission.  The groups present at the luncheon represent more than $5.0 million in visitor economic activity annually for the Valley.

Sports Award Luncheon

Today, high school athletes from Goldendale to Cle Elum were recognized for their athletic achievements at the Yakima Valley Sports Awards luncheon presented by the Catholic Credit Union at the Yakima Convention Center.  More than 550 students, parents, school officials and sponsors were in attendance.

The event is staged by the Yakima Valley Sports Commission and sponsored by the Yakima Herald-Republic, Pepsi, Yakima Parks and Recreation and KIMA-TV.

The finalists and winners are selected by the Herald-Republic sports staff. The Monday Morning Quarterbacks Club also has a vote in the final balloting. Congratulations to all the finalists and winners. Check the Yakima Herald Republic article for details.  A complete list of the winners is available here.

Artwork Dedicated

After months of planning, creation and installation, the Yakima Convention Center has a new piece of artwork.

Suspended in the South Lobby of the center, the piece celebrates the agricultural heritage of the Yakima Valley, interpreting the irrigation systems found in eastern Washington. The eleven  6 ft diameter open metal wheel shapes are covered in a translucent white cloth, suspended from the ceiling at varying heights and distances from one another. The sculptures create a rolling effect in their alignment, engaging viewers as they walk through the Lobby, and looking different from various exits and entrances to the space. The centers of each wheel are made with a hollow tube, implying water flowing through and between. The white translucent fabric make this a dynamic piece, picking up the ambient shifting light of the day, internal lights of the building at night, and subtle shifts in color as the seasons change.

The piece was conceived and created by renown artist Susan Zoccola of Seattle. She has created art in a variety of  public places in Washington including the Seattle Center, Seattle Aquarium, Lynwood Recreation CenterSeattle Tacoma International Airport and  City of Kenmore City Hall. This is her first commission in Eastern Washington.

John Cooper with artist Susan Zoccola

“This adds a new piece of public art to Downtown Yakima while celebrating our heritage,” stated John Cooper, President and CEO of the Yakima Valley Visitors and Convention Center. “It’s our hope that more public art will follow, not only in the convention center, but other places throughout the Valley.”