Business

Tourism leaders promote new state organization

Bill Bryant, president of the Port of Seattle’s board of commissioners, talks to government and business leaders in Coupeville Thursday about a new tourism-promoting group.  - Staff photo
Bill Bryant, president of the Port of Seattle’s board of commissioners, talks to government and business leaders in Coupeville Thursday about a new tourism-promoting group.
— image credit: Staff photo

A commissioner from the Port of Seattle visited Coupeville Thursday to urge government officials and business leaders to join a new state tourism-promotion  group.

Bill Bryant, president of the Port of Seattle’s board of commissioners, simultaneously decried state lawmakers’ decision to cut all funding to tourism promotion and hailed it as an opportunity to finally do the job right.

“I think we have an opportunity to build a much stronger and sustainable organization than if we just relied on state funding,” he said.

The Washington State Tourism office closed on June 30 after legislators cut all its funding to help balance the state budget. In response, the Port of Seattle spearheaded the creation of a new public-private partnership organization called the Washington Tourism Alliance. Bryant said the organization is still being designed; an interim director should be named and bylaws finalized by the end of the month.

Island County already has a voice in the new organization. Island County Tourism became an associate founding partners of the Washington Tourism Alliance with a $2,500 membership fee. Island County Tourism, which runs the “Whidbey Camano Islands” website, is funded by lodging taxes from the county, Oak Harbor, Coupeville and Langley.

Sherrye Wyatt, director Island County Tourism, has been involved from the inception of the Washington Tourism Alliance and brought Bryant to Coupeville to speak.

In addition, private organizations like Indian Gaming, the Washington Restaurant Association and Argosy Cruises are at the table.

Bryant said tourism is one of the seven “pillars” of the state’s economy. He said it’s the fourth largest sector in the state’s economy. Tourism, he said, brings in $15 billion a year to the state and supports about 145,000 jobs with an annual payroll of $1.4 billion.

On the other hand, he said Washington is the only state in the union that doesn’t spend any money to support tourism.

“We don’t want the great foundation we have in tourism to crumble,” he said.

Still, Bryant said the new organization should be able to do a better job of tourism marketing because it won’t be hampered by politics or spread thin over the state.

Paul Schell, Langley businessman and former Seattle mayor, agreed with him, saying they should cut the state out for good. He added that the state could help by getting rid of taxes on tourism.

Yet state Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen pointed out that the state Historic Preservation Office is very successful in promoting history-related tourism.

“There is a place for government,” she said.

Coupeville Mayor Nancy Conard suggested that cities and towns could use lodging taxes to fund membership in the Washington Tourism Alliance.

For communities like Island and Skagit counties, Bryant said the focus should be on identifying niche markets — he suggested artisan food or locally grown produce — and packaging them correctly. He said the Washington Tourism Alliance could help communities with such projects.

“The island communities will be able to leverage their assets in a bigger statewide effort and get more done than they would be able to do otherwise,” he said.

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