It’s a sign of the times. Cash-strapped states are slashing budgets, and tourism is often one victim. But the meetings and hospitality industries in the state of Washington are not taking it sitting down.
With Washington state lawmakers poised to eliminate all funding for tourism promotion at the end of this fiscal year, the state’s convention and visitors bureaus are banding together to create their own mechanism to attract visitors.
While lawmakers allocated $1.8 million to the Washington State Tourism Commission to promote the state for fiscal year 2010–2011, those dollars may dry up midyear. For the upcoming 2011¬–2012 fiscal year, if proposed budgets are approved, funding will be eliminated and the WSTC will be gone as of July 1, 2011.
“It’s truly a situation where our state leaders are having to make some difficult and deep cuts from a budget standpoint, so they are looking at the cost, not the return, and it’s hard for us to get them to look beyond that,” said Cheryl Kilday, president and CEO of the Spokane CVB. Every dollar spent by the state on the Washington State Tourism Commission generated $11 in tax revenue, she said, citing a study.
While CVBs in Spokane, Seattle, and other cities around the state don’t rely on those funds, the loss of the WSTC would hurt them indirectly. “It will affect our competitiveness as a state, which makes our job harder,” said Kilday. If Washington is not promoting itself as a destination, it will make it that much more difficult for visitors to find places like Spokane and Seattle and Yakima.
“It’s really like going back to where we were as a nation [before the Travel Promotion Act], saying, ‘We don’t need to promote the U.S. Everybody knows who we are,’” said Kilday. “That’s the kind of attitude a lot of people in Washington have. They don’t understand the business of tourism.”
So tourism leaders in the state have decided to take action. They have created a nonprofit entity called the Washington Tourism Alliance, and they will hold a summit March 31 to talk about a way forward. The Alliance will be an industry-funded organization to support a tourism office, not unlike the Corporation for Travel Promotion, which the U.S. Travel Association helped spearhead. The idea is to draw on a broad coalition of stakeholders—not just CVBs and hoteliers, but the entire tourism community, including restaurants, attractions, ports, and retailers. The new Alliance would also like to have some financial support from the state. Funding and administration details for the new entity will begin to be hashed out at the March 31 summit.