Letters to the Editor

Oak Harbor: Chamber markets entire community

In regards to the Jan. 16 article “Chamber makes lodging tax haul,” I would like to share a little more information about the tourism efforts in Oak Harbor.

The lodging tax is collected from visitors that stay in Oak Harbor hotels/motels. This is a tax that we all pay when we travel. In areas such as Orlando, FL, the tax rate is 18 percent. In Oak Harbor, the tax rate for lodging is 10.3 percent. The city receives a rebate of 2 percent of the state sales tax, and the other 2 percent referred to is a tax enacted about two years ago over and above the local sales tax.

The funds collected are not paid by the citizens of Oak Harbor; they are not part of our general sales tax; nor our property taxes. They are paid by users of the local accommodations. The City of Oak Harbor is the governmental agency responsible for the distribution of the funds.

Washington State statutes require that any funds collected under this premise be spent on tourism related marketing efforts. This can take many forms, however it must promote the City of Oak Harbor.

The Greater Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce has a basic mission to promote economic development of Oak Harbor. This is fundamental to our existence.

Tourism is one form of economic development on which the Chamber focuses about half its efforts. Communities promote tourism, not only for the dollars that are brought into the community directly to restaurants and lodging facilities, but also for the indirect ripple effect caused by secondary demand on the local economy. Other jobs are created in industries such as construction, transportation, retail trade, insurance and real estate.

The Chamber is the only organization that actively engages this form of economic development of Oak Harbor on a day-to-day basis.

There are many methods used to accomplish such, including operating a Visitor Information Center; answering any telephone, email, or mail inquiries about Oak Harbor; fulfilling those inquiries by mailing packages of literature, and maintaining an informational web site; putting on two annual events (Holland Happening and Old Fashioned 4th of July); traveling outside the community with our parade float; placing display ads in publications; maintaining a billboard promoting the community; networking with other communities; developing literature to promote the area; following up on media leads from tourism sources; and more.

The price tag for this level of service far exceeds the amount funded by the City. The remainder of the resources required are funded by Chamber members, and much of the labor is donated by volunteers.

The Chamber of Commerce appreciates the opportunity to serve as the marketing force for the community. Tourism development and marketing will continue to be a top priority in the years to come, and I am sure that we will all continue to enjoy the fruits of this investment.

Priscilla Heidecker is executive director of Greater Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce.

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