The data doesn’t lie: Tourism is good for business

Our tourism marketing investment must be statewide to make a broad impact on the local economy

Louise Stanton-Masten

Each year, the Washington Tourism Alliance (WTA) publishes an annual statewide travel data report. Research conducted by Dean Runyan Associates for the WTA documents visitor spending, tourism employment, tax revenue and other statistics. The WTA released preliminary data from this year’s report that indicates that tourism in Washington state improved slightly in 2014, but inconsistently throughout various counties in Washington and comparatively slower than the state’s overall taxable sales growth. We believe that the report underscores the need for long-term marketing funding and for interim funding from the Legislature for the WTA this year.

Direct visitor spending in Washington was $19 billion in 2014, up 5 percent over 2013, according to the State Travel Impacts & Visitor Volume 1991-2014 report. This compares with 7.1 percent growth in overall state taxable sales during the same period, according to figures released by the Washington State Department of Commerce.

WTA’s new research also reported on tourism employment and tax revenue. The travel and tourism industry supported more than 163,400 jobs in 2014, up 2.7 percent from 2013. Local and state travel-generated tax revenue was $1.1 billion, representing roughly 6.1 percent of all state and local tax revenues and generating $410 in tax revenue for each Washington household.

A copy of the Executive Summary of the report can be found on the WTA website, www.watourismalliance.com.

We believe that the research underscores the importance of the tourism marketing programs that the WTA has been doing with our limited funding, which include the ExperienceWA.com destination website, Washington State Visitors’ Guide, call center and international marketing, and for a long-term, industry led and funded tourism marketing program.

As WTA Board Chair Cheryl Kilday said, “Robust worldwide travel, combined with the individual tourism marketing investments of the state’s major cities, port districts, local tourism promotion areas and private sector companies, have helped buoy our industry for the past four years since the state tourism office closed. And we’re also grateful for interim funding from the Legislature the past two years which has helped sustain our state visitor guide, website, visitor call center and other essential visitor services. This support, in conjunction with the nationwide travel and tourism growth trend, has been absolutely critical to keeping Washington tourism alive until our industry funding plan can be deployed.”

However, we are concerned about loss of tourism market share in the absence of a legislatively approved, industry-funded long-term marketing program. Our latest research has shown a disparity in tourism impacts in Eastern and Western Washington, and we believe that our tourism marketing investment must be statewide to make a broad impact.

This year, our long-term funding legislation for statewide tourism marketing was introduced in Olympia and received significant support but ran out of time for approval. Plans are underway to continue the approval process in the next session and secure passage of this important legislation.

Louise Stanton-Masten is the executive director of the Washington Tourism Alliance. She can be reached at 425.478.5350 or louise@watourismalliance.com.

Editor’s note: This column originally appeared in the WTA June newsletter, dated July 1, 2015.

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