New group aims to assess tourism businesses in state

By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Tourism is the future of the North Olympic Peninsula economy, and it needs investment from those who rely on it to keep it healthy, state leaders told a large audience Wednesday at the Olympic Peninsula Tourism Summit.

Washington is the only state with no state tourism agency and has the lowest budget for tourism, just as the Olympic Peninsula and other parts of Washington state are beginning to depend more on tourism dollars for its economy, said Louise Stanton-Masten, Washington Tourism Alliance executive director.

The nonprofit alliance receives $481,000 per year from the state to take over the duties of the defunct tourism agency, which was eliminated in 2011, she said.

The alliance is looking for more money from businesses in the categories of lodging, restaurants, attractions, tourism transportation and tourism retail, Stanton-Masten said.

It is seeking an annual state assessment of $100 to $3,000 per business, depending on each business’ annual gross revenue, with a target of $7.5 million each year for tourism.

“Most businesses on the North Olympic Peninsula are too small for an assessment,” she said, but she noted that smaller businesses can contribute as they wish.

State Rep. Kevin Van De Wege, a Sequim Democrat, told more than 100 tourism businessmen and -women at the Red Lion Hotel that the Peninsula is moving toward greater reliance on tourism.

“As areas like the North Olympic Peninsula transition from a natural resources-dependent economy to a tourism economy, you are the leaders in that,” said Van De Wege, who represents the 24th District, which includes the North Olympic Peninsula.

“Tourism brings in $330 million in Jefferson and Clallam counties annually,” he said.

“It’s a lot of money that comes in and puts a lot of people to work.”

Tourism is important for more than traditional tourism industries such as hotels, restaurants and gift shop operators, Van De Wege said.

It also affects industrial businesses, he said, using as an example Westport, saying it relies on the purchase and repairs of yachts used by visitors as luxury accommodations as they shop and vacation in the state.

Van De Wege said government is a big part of what happens in the tourism industry.

“We saw what happened with what the [partial] federal shutdown did to national parks,” he said.

However, with no state tourism office, the ball falls to the industry itself.

Tourism is the fourth-largest industry of the state economy behind aerospace, computer software and agriculture, Stanton-Masten said.

Tourism brings in $4.7 billion per year and saves residents $400 million in taxes each year, she said.

When the state Legislature eliminated the Washington Tourism Office, the state became the only one without a state tourism agency, Stanton-Masten said.

Since then, the state has slipped in raking in its share of the national tourism dollars, she added.

Neighboring states and provinces spend far more to bring outside money into their states, Stanton-Masten said.

According to her figures, British Columbia spends $53 million per year, Oregon has a $12 million budget for tourism, Nevada spends $15 million per year, and Idaho spends $7 million to bring in visitors.

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Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at arwyn.rice@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: October 23. 2013 7:42PM
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