By Gabriel Neuman, GSBA Policy Counsel and Government Relations Manager
One of the best things about living in a state as beautiful and fun as Washington is showing it to other people. That’s why this year, State of Washington Tourism (SWT) proposed HB1258, a bill that would refuel our state’s tourism infrastructure to boost us to the top of the list for prospective visitors. GSBA was thrilled to partner with (SWT) in lobbying for this bill as it moved through the state legislature. While the bill does not look like it will be fully funded, current negotiations see the state providing an additional $8-9 million to SWT over the next biennium. In the meantime, GSBA will continue to collaborate with SWT and other partners to highlight the tourism industry’s importance to our elected leaders.
Who is State of Washington Tourism?
The bill is a culmination of work done by State of Washington Tourism as our state’s new Destination Marketing and Management Organization. The nonprofit, previously known as the Washington Tourism Alliance, underwent a major transformation prior to the bill’s unveiling. In addition to the new name, the organization announced a new logo, photos and videos, a travel website, and a national marketing campaign. Their consumer campaign, #TrueToNature, aims to incorporate a “travelers first” approach to tourism. It highlights our connection to nature and encourages travelers who seek unique and transformative experiences.
What does the bill do?
State of Washington Tourism’s vision of a truly state-wide tourism travel network is clearly reflected in HB1258. The bill seeks state funding of $13 million per fiscal year to operate the organization. These funds will be used to expand tour product to rural and underserved regions, increasing the flow of tourism throughout the entire state; create dedicated cultural, niche, and responsible tourism campaigns and programs; implement direct business/industry recovery programs, development, and grants; and solidify Washington’s presence in key tourism markets. Notably, it would provide small and rural cities with funds to market themselves to tourists—something that is much too expensive for many small communities. This support would be a game-changer, as it would provide smaller areas with the capital to market themselves, which would increase tourism jobs and drive sales tax revenue from their purchases.
Visit Issaquah perfectly demonstrated the impact this funding has on the community when they received a grant from SWT. The $8,000 grant they received from State of Washington Tourism allowed them to bring in professional facilitators and resources to educate their partners in tourism around the expectations and needs of the LGBTQ+, BIPOC communities, and visitors with invisible disabilities. This money will also be used to introduce Issaquah’s first PRIDE event and grow their annual Juneteenth celebration, drawing visitors from outside the 50-mile radius.
Discussions with the Legislature
This year was a tough year to seek program funding, as revenue shortfalls have made legislators reluctant to fund additional programs. David Blandford, Executive Director of State of Washington Tourism, sits on GSBA’s Policy Council, and kept us up to date with their campaign. GSBA lobbyists Katie Kolan and Jean Leonard were on the scene in Olympia and met with numerous legislators to rally support. Meanwhile, GSBA reached out to rally support from the community. Unfortunately, while our legislators understand the importance of tourism, the bill was voted out of the House Appropriations Committee with a recommended funding amount of $9 million—far lower than the $26 million requested for the biennium. The bill will likely pass through the Senate with the same amount of funding.
GSBA will continue to support State of Washington Tourism’s efforts in promoting tourism throughout our state. Washington has long held a reputation as a sanctuary for the LGBTQ+ community, and as more states are enacting harmful legislation, many tourists will purposely choose to support inclusive economies. We are committed to supporting SWT in building a robust, and caring tourism industry in our state.
For more information about State of Washington Tourism, please visit stateofwatourism.com or connect with them on social media using #TrueToNature.