Last Thursday I had the pleasure to witness Governor Inslee sign Substitute House Bill 2229 that supports the development of funding for a long-term tourism marketing program. The tourism industry had worked hard on the legislation and it was great to be there when it was signed into law.
The bill recognizes a structure, level of funding and governance for a state tourism marketing program and directs state agencies to work with the Washington Tourism Alliance (WTA) to support a mechanism for ongoing tourism marketing.
Why is this important? The fact is we are losing tourism market share. New research indicates that while tourism in Washington State improved slightly in 2013, the rate of growth has slowed while the rate of growth in the U.S. travel industry as a whole has accelerated.
According to the report, from 2012 to 2013 direct visitor spending in Washington State was up a meager 2.4%, after the previous year’s nearly 4% increase. Visitation grew at a slower rate; the total number of overnight person trips of 37.2 million increased by just 2.0 %. Other data show similar trends in comparing 2012 and 2013 growth rates for Washington State.
Meanwhile, at the national level there has been an acceleration of the growth in the U.S. travel industry. For example, visitor spending nationally was $900 billion in 2013, an increase of 3.6 % over 2012.
Let’s put this into dollars and jobs. We lagged the national average tourism spending growth by 1.2%. Does not sound like much, but it is. In 2013 visitors spent $17.6 billion in Washington state. If we had kept pace with the nation we would have seen an additional $211 million in visitor spending. According to the firm that did the study (Dean Runyan and Associates), for every $74,000 in visitor spending in Washington, one job is created. That means an additional 2,850 potential jobs were lost because we did not keep pace with national visitor spending growth. If we had a state tourism program in place we may have gained that spending and job growth.
The long-term funding framework in the legislation would raise funds from key sectors of the tourism industry including lodging, food service, transportation, attractions and entertainment, and tourism related retail. No state funds would be needed. SHB 2229 requires the WTA to submit a report to the legislature in December 2014 which will propose the collection method and governance structure to implement the funding proposal.
So now our real work begins as we bring the industry together, find solutions and get the process moving. I believe if we don’t act we will continue to lose market share, which means less visitor spending, less taxes they create that support our services and most importantly, less jobs for our residents.