The fall of the innkeeper

Fall, the leaves are turning brilliant colors, the evenings are getting a little more crisp, and people are starting to shop for costumes and pumpkins. The kids are back in school and we find ourselves looking forward to that extra hour of sleep that we’ll gain the night of the time change. The tourists are mostly gone now as well; home saving up their gas money for vacation next summer or trying to reconcile their credit card statements to see how much they’ve spent having some summer fun. This is the time also, when most business operators in the tourist industry begin the projects to upgrade their facilities, getting ready for the next season’s onrush with deep cleaning, and (dare I say it) the lowering of their rates. Oh, the circle of life!

This is a perfect time of year for those of us who live here on Whidbey to enjoy some of the sights and scenes that are often so crowded and overlooked by us during the peak of summer. The weather can still be fantastic, even if a little cooler. The air loses that summer afternoon haze that frequently lowers visibility, and one can usually find a place to park the RV at Windjammer Park (City Beach), Deception Pass, Fort Casey, or even on the streets of Oak Harbor, Langley, or Coupeville.

It’s a good time to invite family and friends over for a visit, for all the same reasons aforementioned. And, if you don‘t have enough room at your house to accommodate all of the people you’ve invited out, I’m sure one of Whidbey’s hoteliers would be more than happy to find them a place to stay for a night or two. We are always looking for a few more guests this time of year.

When you buy a sweatshirt at Wal-Mart, you pay sales tax of 8.3 percent. Visitors that stay in hotels, motels, and bed & breakfasts are taxed an extra 2 percent for their lodging and an additional 2 percent is then taken out of the basic tax to bring the total sales tax contribution for tourism efforts paid for by visitors to 4 percent out of a total tax of 10.3 percent. This money is then used specifically to promote Island County and Whidbey Island in an effort to increase tourism in the shoulder seasons, or in the case we’ve been discussing, this fall.

What a brilliant idea! We tax folks that come here and use their money to bring more folks to come here. It’s a little bit like charging too much for a carnival ride, then giving the carnival operator a rebate, but only if they advertise to find another person to purchase a ticket for the same ride. If I were the owner of the carnival, I think I’d advertise on my own and give people a lower price for the ride, but that’s just me. Not that I’m complaining, all this taxing and advertising helps fuel the business that I’m in. And, the program is designed to help me during the times when I (and other hoteliers) need it most, the fall and spring. I just wonder if some folks are getting tired of the price of this particular fuel.

I serve on two of the committees that help oversee the disbursement of these lodging taxes; every committee needs a grumpy curmudgeon. These committees try very hard to make sure that the county, the cities in the County, and the lodging operators get a good value for the money they are charged with collecting. Many events in and around Oak Harbor would not be successful unless they received some of these funds that help them cover the costs associated with promoting their event. These events do bring visitors to stay on the Island, thereby replacing the expended funds with their newly spent dollars; as I said, “What brilliant idea!” I must admit, even though I’m never in favor of new or increased taxes, this system seems to work.

So, as fall slowly (and as I get older, this seasonal change seems to happen ever more rapidly) turns over to winter, help a friend out; invite your friends to spend the night in Oak Harbor, and then give me a call. I’ll make sure they have an enjoyable stay and add to the advertising budget all in one fell swoop.

Randy Brandford is general manager of the Coachman Inn in Oak Harbor. His column appears monthly in the Whidbey News-Times.

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