A bill creating a Washington Tourism Marketing Authority would be established by legislation heard Thursday in the Senate Agriculture, Water, Trade & Economic Development Committee.
“As a lifetime resident of the state of Washington who has driven just about every back road, I think it’s just a shame that the state isn’t spending any money to promote the wonders of our state to the benefit of our small businesses,” said 19th District Sen. Dean Takko, prime sponsor of Senate Bill 5251.
The State Tourism Commission fell victim to budget cuts and was eliminated after the 2009-11 biennium; since then there has been no state-backed organization to promote state tourism, which Takko says many small towns rely on to bolster their struggling economies.
Takko says the bill enjoys bipartisan support — the five co-sponsors of the bill are three Democrats and two Republicans — and ensures that any expenditures made with taxpayer dollars by the newly formed tourism authority would be matched by a private contribution at a two-to-one ratio of private dollars to public dollars.
“A Washington Tourism Marketing program is a win-win, benefitting our small business owners on the shores of coastal towns and enhancing our ability to share our distinct cultures and environments with the world at a relatively insignificant cost to the taxpayer,” Takko said.
The bill is expected to receive a vote before the committee in the coming weeks.
When the state tourism commission fell in 2011, the Washington Tourism Alliance, a nonprofit organization comprising members of the state tourism industry, formed to assume official state tourism marketing and promotion activities. All funding comes from the alliance’s members.
The bill would create a state authority to manage financial resources for the development of a statewide tourism marketing plan. The state authority would be governed by a 13-member board made up of legislators and nine representatives from the tourism industry. There will also be a nonvoting advisory committee, made up for members from the departments of commerce, revenue, state parks, and transportation, and one member from a federally recognized Indian tribe.
The bill’s passage would also create an account, into which, beginning July 1, 0.1 percent of taxes collected on retail sales of lodging, car rental and restaurants must be deposited, up to $5 million per biennium. Expenditures from the account may only be made for allowable expenses related to the statewide tourism program which must include focuses on: rural tourism-dependent counties, natural wonders and outdoor recreation opportunities of the state, attraction of international tourists, identification of local offerings for tourists, and assistance for tourism areas adversely impacted by natural disasters; contracting for the evaluation of the impact of the statewide tourism marketing program; and administrative expenses of the Washington Tourism Marketing Authority. Expenditures may only be made when a two-to-one private to state match has been provided. At the end of the 2017-2019 biennium, all revenues that remain in the account that are not matched by private funds will revert back to the State General Fund.