Washington’s tourism marketing program gets Senate OK

Will House approve bill to fund it?

By Mai Hoang

Yakima Herald-Republic

OLYMPIA — Seven years after budget cuts forced the closure of Washington’s tourism office, the state Senate has unanimously approved a bill creating a new tourism marketing program.

President and CEO of Yakima Valley Tourism John Cooper said he was delighted by passage of the bill, which now heads to the House for possible action.

“We’re just glad we’re getting somewhere,” Cooper said Monday.

Washington has been without a coordinated tourism marketing program since 2011, when financial pressures resulted in the closure of its tourism office.

Under Senate Bill 5251, 0.2 percent of the retail sales tax collected by lodging facilities, car rentals and restaurants would fund state tourism marketing efforts.

The sales tax collection would provide a maximum of $1.5 million in funding during the 2019 fiscal year and then $3 million during the biennium, the state’s two-year budget cycle.

With a required private match from local tourism organizations, the state could have up to $9 million per biennium for tourism marketing efforts.

Washington remains the only state without a coordinated tourism program. A nonprofit organization, the Washington Tourism Alliance, formed shortly after the office’s closure, but has only had enough funding for a tourism guide and a website, www.experiencewa.com.

The alliance has worked on getting state tourism program legislation passed for several years.

And even under proposed legislation, Washington state would still be well behind neighboring states. California and Oregon, for example, had tourism marketing budgets of $117 million and $32 million, respectively.

However, tourism officials statewide believe just having a coordinated statewide marketing effort backed by a steady stream of funding is a good start, especially as it would provide national and international exposure for regions statewide, Cooper said.

“This will help us get back in the game,” he said.

The bill now goes before the state House.