OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — After eliminating the state tourism office in 2011, Washington lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow those in the private sector to pick up the slack.
The request comes as the state's share of tourists is declining, tourism industry officials say.
"Our concern is that as we look at annual numbers, we are continuing to lose market share," said Louise Stanton-Masten, president of the Washington Tourism Alliance, which formed after the state tourism office closed.
Washington is the only state without a state-funded tourism office. In the surrounding states and Canada, from $7 million to upward of $60 million a year is spent marketing to visitors.
Stanton-Masten says Washington can't adequately compete on its current budget of nearly $1 million a year made up of short-term funding from the Legislature and the dues of about 440 alliance members across the state. With its budget, the organization has been able to revamp the Experience Washington travel website and produce the official state visitor guide.
"We've been keeping the lights on," she said.
According to David Blandford of Visit Seattle, everyone across Washington in the tourism industry has been putting in extra effort since the state office closed.
"We've all been working very hard to make sure Washington stays in the mind of travelers, which is hard to do with little money," Blandford said.
Under House Bill 2229, money to support tourism marketing and promotion throughout the state would come from the tourism industry in five key areas: lodging; food service; attractions and entertainment; retail; and transportation.
"It goes back to our philosophy that the state closed the tourism office, and we want to take care of ourselves," Stanton-Masten said.
Rep. Jeff Morris sponsored the bill, which passed the House on an 88-8 vote and is making its way through the Senate. The Mount Vernon Democrat said the measure essentially sets up a money collection process for the Washington Tourism Alliance.