The Washington State Department of Commerce announced that the Washington Tourism Alliance (WTA) has been awarded a five-year contract to provide tourism marketing services for the State of Washington, effectively immediately.
The WTA, a private, 501[c]6 organization led by the state tourism industry, will assume the role of official statewide destination marketing organization with the goal of enhancing economic prosperity through visitor volume, expenditures, tax revenue and jobs.
Since 2011, when the state tourism office was closed due to lack of funding, Washington has been the only state in the U.S. without a consistent statewide tourism marketing program. To mitigate the loss of tourism market share to other states with robust tourism budgets, Washington’s tourism industry created the WTA as an advocacy organization in 2011 and spent the next seven years lobbying for an industry-led and funded program.
A model based on successful programs in other states focused on a 2:1 match of private funds to access appropriated state general funds. The resulting $15 million fund has two components: $5 million per biennium from a general fund appropriation and $10 million from a private industry match.
Governor Jay Inslee signed into law E4SSB 5251 in March of 2018, establishing the funding mechanism and framework necessary to re-start a statewide tourism marketing program. The legislation also created the Washington Tourism Marketing Authority, comprised of nine tourism industry and related business representatives, which is responsible for the service contract, definition and oversight of matching funds and evaluation of the impact of the new marketing program. Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism CEO Sandy Ward is an incoming member of the Washington Tourism Marketing Authority board.
“This milestone could not have been achieved without the leadership and support of the tourism industry and state legislators,” said Shiloh Burgess, WTA Co-Chair. “Industry members served as advocates, sustained a WTA membership program that kept our consumer travel web site and other essential programs going, and promoted the state as whole in their individual marketing initiatives. And state legislators came to the table to help construct the funding model needed to evolve and grow the state’s fourth largest industry.”
The work of the WTA now focuses on quickly re-building a statewide tourism marketing program. As directed by the legislation, WTA will create marketing programs that help rural, tourism-dependent communities, promote natural wonders and outdoor recreation, attract international visitors and identify local offerings for visitors.
Additionally, the WTA will establish a destination development program for rural and underserved tourism communities and create a crisis communications plan and program to assist state communities during times of disaster and spur post-crisis business recovery.
“With so many incredible cultural and recreational opportunities throughout the state, tourism is a key economic driver for many rural communities,” said Robb Zerr, Managing Director for Rural and Marketing Services for the state Department of Commerce which administers state funding for WTA and leads rural economic development strategies. “This investment in targeted marketing programs will help strengthen communities by encouraging visits to some of Washington’s most unique and beautiful places.”
To generate program funds, WTA plans an extensive industry outreach program.
“Expectations are high and a tremendous amount of work lies before us,” David Blandford, WTA Co-Chair. “Fortunately, WTA and the tourism industry have coalesced around advocacy during the past seven years, and the strength of those relationships is key now as we reach out to partner on collaborative marketing programs, foster corporate investment and attract in-kind support. This new tourism marketing program depends on industry members across the state more than ever now. We simply can’t grow market share and leverage general fund dollars without them.”
About the Washington Tourism Alliance
The Washington Tourism Alliance (WTA) is a 501[c]6 organization established by industry stakeholders with the sole mission of developing and sustaining Washington State destination tourism marketing. The WTA procures and administers funds for state destination tourism marketing activities and creates and implements a strategic statewide destination marketing plan. www.watourismalliance.com