Spokane Journal of Business

The Journal’s View: Effort to raise more money for tourism has merit

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Since Washington state doesn’t have a dedicated tourism promotion office, the state Legislature should be supportive of efforts to add flexibility to a public tourism-promotion funding tool afforded to the industry.

When the Legislature reconvenes early next year, Visit Spokane and the Spokane Regional Sports Commission plan to advocate for increases to the Tourism Promotion Area assessment, a fee on hotel room night stays. The money goes to the state, then is funneled back to destination marketing organizations, of which Visit Spokane is one, specifically for tourism marketing.

For years – 16 years, to be precise – the fee has been capped at $2 per room-night stay. In Spokane County, that equates to about $2 million a year that’s divided between Visit Spokane and the sports commission. The lion’s share goes to Visit Spokane, though some of that money is distributed to other tourism-related organizations through grants.

Visit Spokane and the sports commission have said they want the ability to raise the assessment fee by $1 or $2 a room-night in Spokane County.

You won’t typically see the Journal supporting what potentially could be the doubling of a fee, but this effort makes sense on a couple of levels.

First, in Spokane, the increase in the assessment is supported largely by the industry that’s required to levy the fee: the hotel operators themselves, some of whom are heavily involved in Visit Spokane.

Also, the burden typically falls on visitors to the Spokane area, rather than residents. Consequently, a typical Spokane household is completely unaffected by the fee. And even for the average out of towner, a $2-a-night increase wouldn’t be a prohibitive burden.

In general, the state should be generous in increasing the ceiling for the assessment fee and let each market determine how aggressively it wants to raise money for tourism promotion.

That’s especially the case because the state doesn’t have a tourism department, unlike its peers. By contrast, in fiscal 2017-2018, California had a provisional budget of $120.5 million for tourism, top in the nation. For the same year, Oregon put $33.2 million toward tourism. 

The state’s decision years ago to divert funds from tourism doesn’t need to be debated at this time. But in that environment, markets within the state should have the capacity to be more aggressive in pursuing marketing dollars, if they deem it appropriate.

One could make the argument for removing the ceiling on the tourism promotion assessment altogether, a change for which some are advocating.

Tourism advocates are looking at other changes involving the room fee that would provide more flexibility in how dollars can be spent and would enable small communities to form tourism promotion areas. The details of those efforts still are being sorted out.

In general, however, legislators should be flexible in providing greater opportunity to those communities that want to promote tourism. 

Visit Spokane cites national figures that state $7 are brought to a community for every $1 it spends on destination marketing. It’s time for the tourism industry here to have more opportunity to garner that kind of return on its marketing dollars.

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