Editorial: Oak Harbor's tourism move makes sense

The Oak Harbor City Council’s decision to move toward decreasing the city’s contribution to the Island County Joint Tourism promotion effort is reasonable.

At present, the city donates 1 percent of its hotel/motel tax revenue to the joint tourism cause. The desire is to substitute a flat fee of approximately $20,000 to the fund, which would have the effect of cutting the city’s contribution by half. The new amount would match the $20,000 contributed from Langley and still exceed the $13,000 from Coupeville.

If the change is made, Oak Harbor would have more money to promote its own events, while still contributing to the common good of countywide tourism promotion.

Oak Harbor has by far the largest number of hotel and motel rooms in the county, but they’re not all filled by tourists, as is mostly the case elsewhere. It’s safe to say that most overnight visitors to Oak Harbor are here on business, usually dealing with some aspect of Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. Our island’s biggest employer draws thousands of visitors each year for conferences and business meetings, and those people find the city without any help from tourism Web sites or brochures. The number of pure tourists stay in Oak Harbor may not be much greater than those staying in and around Langley and Coupeville.

This is not to say that joint tourism promotion is not worthwhile. Oak Harbor business leaders are working to draw more tourists to town, which is why they need more resources to work with. At the same time, it’s important to keep the countywide tourism project alive, which is why Oak Harbor proposed to still support the effort, but at a lesser, more realistic, level. The tourism Web site at www.whidbeycamanoislands.com is a good one, and the motto, “The shortest distance to far away,” is appropriate for helping to attract visitors from nearby metro areas.

This is a politically sensitive issue, of course, and Oak Harbor’s desire to reduce its share of the joint tourism funding must be agreed to by Island County, Coupeville and Langley. But they should appreciate the continued support from Oak Harbor and respect that it has different needs than its more rural counterparts.

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