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'Do nothing here' campaign still in questions

It seems likely that the somewhat controversial marketing effort for Island County — “do nothing here” — will continue, but there’s still a question of how much the city of Oak Harbor will contribute to the program.

If the “do nothing” advertising theme does continue, Oak Harbor Chamber Director Priscilla Heistad said the committee that runs the program will probably dump Big Bang, the marketing company that created the campaign, and instead hire a local tourism director to run it.

Oak Harbor City Council and several business-related people met in a workshop last Tuesday to discuss the future of the countywide marketing program and the 2 percent lodging tax that supports it. While the council members (Councilman Eric Gerber and Mayor Patty Cohen were absent) did not make any decisions, the majority said they would support going forward with the campaign in some form.

“I would not hesitate to go with 1 percent,” said Councilwoman Sheilah Crider, who has been a critic of the advertising campaign. She is a member of the Island County Joint Tourism Board that runs the marketing effort.

There’s a total 4 percent lodging tax in Oak Harbor, which is the maximum allowed under state law. The first 2 percent is a rebate on sales tax and that money is doled out to tourism-related activities by a city committee. The other half goes to a county-wide marketing effort that started in January of 2003. The “do nothing here” campaign is aimed at bringing tourists to Whidbey and Camano islands during the off-season. Oak Harbor, Island County, Coupeville and Langley all contribute to the campaign.

Oak Harbor currently contributes 40 percent, or $70,000 as year, of the entire $180,000 advertising budget.

Last year, several council members complained that Langley was only contributing 1 percent. When the agreement was first made, Langley could only contribute 1 percent because the other 1 percent was being used to finance a restroom project. Yet Oak Harbor council members and Mayor Patty Cohen understood that Langley would contribute the entire 2 percent once the restrooms were completed.

When that didn’t happen, several council members got upset. They voted to withdraw from the island-wide marketing program, which meant sending notice to the other entities involved that Oak Harbor will pull out of the program at the end of the year. Oak Harbor won’t be contributing next year unless a new deal can be worked out.

There are a number of complains about the current contract, most notable is Langley’s miserly ways. As Councilwoman Sue Karahalios pointed out Tuesday, Langley — as a popular tourism spot — probably got the biggest benefit from the campaign, but contributes the smallest percentage.

Council members didn’t like that the “do nothing here” brochures and other promotional materials didn’t emphasize Oak Harbor very much.

In addition, there were concerns about the quality of the campaign. Some folks didn’t like the idea of the “do nothing here” slogan — which is supposed to promote the relaxation potential of the county — arguing that it doesn’t make much sense. The Web site, donothinghere.com, lists “things to do” under the banner of “do nothing here.”

A couple of council members questioned why there was no quantitative way to judge the success of the program, beyond the number of hits on the Web site — which were substantial. “We all agreed that the weakness in the whole program was that there was no way to measure results,” Crider said.

Crider also complained that she had been confronted by another member of the tourism board, who also happens to be a bed-and-breakfast owner. “I don’t like to be threatened and I don’t like to be pushed against the wall,” she said.

On the other hand, Heistad and others maintained that it would simply be a waste of money to abandon the marketing program less than two years after it began.

“We need to do something with the campaign a little longer,” Karahalios said. “Whether it’s the whole amount or half the amount is to be decided.”

Several people also argued that local officials shouldn’t be concerned about how much Langley contributes. John LaFond, chairman of the Island District Economic Development Council and former council member, said that Langley only contributed about 11 percent of the total amount. “It’s a drop in the bucket, frankly,” he said.

Yet there was also a question of whether it makes sense to spend the money advertising Oak Harbor as a tourist destination instead of working to make it a place people would like to visit.

“Whether or not Langley contributes 2 percent is irrelevant,” said Marcia Van Dyke, a member of the Joint Tourism Board and publisher of the Whidbey News-Times, stressing that she was speaking only for herself. “What is relevant to me is we’re paying an awful lot and we’re not a tourist destination.”

One idea that was popular with the group is using 1 percent of the money for the proposed Oak Harbor municipal pier, which is expected to be a tourism draw. “The pier would be an excellent use of that money,” Brewer said.

At the same time, everyone at the workshop said there was value in continuing the marketing program. While Councilman Richard Davis conceded that Oak Harbor may not draw many tourists, he said the city’s hotels, restaurants and other businesses benefit from increased visits to the island as a whole.

“Whether or not they are coming here to see Oak Harbor is not important,” he said, “as long as they stop here.”

Folks at the workshop also agreed that it’s time to consider cutting Big Bang loose. Heistad proposed that the money could be used to start an full-time, island-wide tourism bureau to continue the “do nothing here” campaign. The board owns the copyright for the logo. She said it would be a much more cost effective option.

According to Heisted, the marketing effort would be able to continue if Oak Harbor pulled out 1 percent of its contributions, but she worried that other entities would follow suit.

“We could do it with 1 percent,” she said, “as long as Island County doesn’t drop to 1 percent.”

You can reach News-Times reporter Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611.

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