EDITORIAL: Council's tourism action ill-timed

Oak Harbor City Council members acted too quickly and dramatically last week when they halved the city’s financial support for the countywide tourism marketing campaign.

The issue is the “Do Nothing on Whidbey” advertising campaign and where the money comes from to support it. Oak Harbor contributes 2 percent of its hotel/motel tax revenues to the effort, while Langley contributes only 1 percent. Also offering 2 percent are Island County and Coupeville.

Langley’s lesser support obviously grated on the Oak Harbor council members, even though it was sufficiently explained before the contract was signed last year. Langley had already committed 1 percent to another project and had nothing more to spare. Although not written into the contract, the feeling was that Langley would eventually match the other parties’ 2 percent. This should be a requirement when the time comes, as Langley benefits more than most from tourism.

After cutting Oak Harbor’s contribution to 1 percent, the council voted to reopen negotiations with the other parties involved, including Langley, Coupeville and Island County. The advertising campaign contract is for three years, and clearly Oak Harbor wants changes before the contract is renewed.

Unfortunately, Oak Harbor’s action caught Langley by surprise and created hard feelings between the two communities on opposite ends of the island. Coupeville and Island County likely weren’t too pleased with the move, either. This all could have been avoided with some prior consultation with the other parties before last week’s vote was taken. What’s the hurry? The marketing contract still has two years to run its course.

The majority on the Oak Harbor council seems to believe the “Do Nothing” campaign isn’t helping Oak Harbor enough. The ad campaign is targeted at the Seattle audience and features images more associated with rural and small town Island County than with the City of Oak Harbor. These council members would rather take back 1 percent and use that for other projects, such as upgrading the city’s public restrooms.

But this judgement is premature. “Do Nothing” is an imaginative campaign, well executed by its creator, a public relations company called Big Bang. This is its first full season, so give it time. Advertising works, but results can’t be measured immediately. We suspect that after a year or two, thousands of Seattleites will associate Whidbey Island with the idea of getting away from the rat race and doing “nothing” in a rural environment. This should help keep our inns fuller, businesses busier, and tax revenues increasing during the winter months in coming years.

By doing what it did when it did, the Oak Harbor council damaged our relations with other island communities and undermined what promises to be an effective advertising campaign. The negative consequences could have been avoided simply by doing nothing for a while longer.

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