Visitor Spending Slows In Washington State

Montana billboard outside the Pike Street Market in Seattle

Montana billboard outside the Pike Street Market in Seattle

Yesterday I attended the Third Annual Tourism Summit hosted by the Washington Tourism Alliance (WTA), where more than 200 tourism professionals from around the state convened in Olympia. I was encouraged with the level of support from Governor Inslee for sustaining basic tourism efforts through ‘bridge funding’. I am worried though with the sluggish growth of tourism in Washington State in 2012.

Figures released at the summit by WTA indicate that visitor spending in Washington improved just 2.1% in 2012, yet as a whole, tourism in the U.S. grew by 5.2%.  That means we lost market share. The state saw some 36.4 million total overnight person trips in 2012, and those visitors spent $16.9 billion, up 4.4%. Travel and tourism supported more than 153,300 jobs in 2012, up 2.7%, and generated a payroll of $4.7 billion.  While encouraging, I wonder how much more new spending, jobs and taxes would have been created if we had seen the level of growth the rest of the country did?

Why is visitor spending leveling off and likely to decline in the future? I think it’s largely because we have no state tourism program. As I have discussed before, the Washington State Tourism Office was closed in July 2011. Our main competitors have increased their marketing efforts. Idaho tourism has a budget of $7 million, Oregon has $12 million, British Columbia is at $48 million and California spends $61 million to attract visitors. They’re out there luring visitors as the WTA limps along with the meager resources it is able to raise.

The ‘bridge funding’ I mentioned is an industry request that is part of the Governor’s economic recovery plan. It calls for $1.77 million for the next two years (about $887,000 per year). Compared to the other states it’s spare change, but at least it will keep basic services going until long-term funding is secured. These dollars would be for website development and maintenance, postage to mail the industry funded visitors guide, operation of a call center, research and some international marketing.

If we want to improve our economy, create jobs and generate new taxes to support our public services we must revive statewide tourism marketing efforts. Otherwise we will lose ground.

John Cooper

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