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Tourism and Local Governments

This page addresses tourism planning for local governments in Washington State, including financing options, examples of local tourism programs, and related resources.


Overview

Tourism is Washington's fourth largest industry. This is reflected in the increasing dollars generated for the economy and the heightened interest local communities have in developing a tourism industry. Some general observations about the characteristics of tourism in Washington counties are presented in Dean Runyan Associates' Washington State, Regional and County Travel Impacts.


Planning for Tourism

Tourism planning requires strong local support. Communities must be willing to cater to tourists and provide settings and experiences that are attractive to the traveling public. The community should have amenities, attractions, and/or destinations around which to build a tourism strategy.

Tourism Marketing Plans


Hotel-Motel (Lodging) Tax

The hotel-motel tax or lodging tax (chapter 67.28 RCW) is the primary source of funds for tourism promotion. For more information, see our page on Lodging Tax (Hotel-Motel Tax).


Tourism Promotion Areas (TPA)

The legislative body of any county with a population of more than 40,000, or any city or town within such a county, may form a tourism promotion area (TPA) to generate revenue for tourism promotion (chapter 35.101 RCW). Counties with a population of 40,000 or less, and cities or towns within those counties, are not eligible.

A TPA may include the entire jurisdiction or only a portion, and multiple jurisdictions may establish a joint TPA through interlocal agreement. However, a county TPA may only include unincorporated areas, unless the county has signed an interlocal agreement with one or more cities to form a joint TPA.

In a county with a population of one million or more – currently, only King County – the legislative body must be comprised of two or more jurisdictions acting under an interlocal agreement. (However, in 2015 the legislature created an exception for Federal Way to form a TPA by itself.)

Within the tourism promotion area, the legislative body may impose a charge of up to $2 per room per night on lodging businesses with 40 or more rooms. The legislative body may establish up to six different lodging classifications, sometimes referred to as “zones,” with different rates in each. The classifications must be based on geographic location, number of rooms, or room revenue.

Lodging businesses with less than 40 rooms are exempt and may not be assessed, and some jurisdictions have established other exemptions by policy.

The lodging businesses collect the charges and remit them to the Department of Revenue, which deposits the revenues into the Local Tourism Promotion Account. The state treasurer distributes money in the account monthly to the legislative authority on whose behalf the money was collected.

The revenue must be used for “tourism promotion,” which is defined as “activities and expenditures designed to increase tourism and convention business, including but not limited to advertising, publicizing, or otherwise distributing information for the purpose of attracting and welcoming tourists and operating tourism destination marketing organizations” (RCW 35.101.010(4)).

The legislative body may appoint an existing advisory board or create a new advisory board to make recommendations on the use of the revenues, but the legislative body has sole discretion as to how the funds are used to promote tourism. The legislative authority may contract with tourism destination marketing organizations or other similar organizations to administer the operation of the area.

Formation of a tourism promotion area is initiated by a petition to the legislative body of the city or county. The petition must describe the proposed TPA boundaries, the total estimated revenues, and the proposed uses of the revenues, and it must contain the signatures of people who operate lodging businesses in the proposed TPA who would pay at least 60% of the proposed charges. The legislative body must hold a public hearing on the establishment of the TPA.

Examples

  • Liberty Lake Ordinance No. 127A (2011) Increasing TPA rates to $2 per night for lodging businesses with room revenues over $500,000 during the previous year; rates remain at $0.50 per room for businesses with $500,000 or less in room revenues. Includes original ordinance establishing TPA in 2004.
  • Pierce County
    • Interlocal Agreement (2009) - Agreement between county and several cities to create TPA, with four different geographic zones and rates. Applies only to hotels, motels, and B&Bs; includes adopting resolution
    • Ordinance No, 2009-110s (2009) - Establishes TPA and advisory commission
  • Prosser Tourism Promotion Area Grant Application (2018)
  • SeaTac, Tukwila, and Des Moines (Seattle Southside TPA)
    • Interlocal Agreement (2014) - SeaTac city council acts as legislative body. Includes exemptions for long-term room occupants, private clubs, rooms provided free of charge, and rooms contracted with airline crews
    • SeaTac Resolution No. 14-014 (2014) - Notice of intent to establish TPA with rate of $2 per night for hotels, motels, and B&Bs with 90 or more units. 
    • SeaTac Ordinance No. 14-1013 (2014) - Establishes TPA
  • Spokane County Tourism Promotion Area Interlocal Agreement (2004) – Three geographic zones with different rates, as well as fourth zone for all lodging businesses with room revenue under $500,000 per year regardless of geographic location
  • Wenatchee
    • Ordinance No. 2010-11 (2010) - Reenacts TPA following expiration of original TPA, with rate of $1 per room. Establishes advisory committee; ordinance must be reviewed every three years to determine continued efficacy and desirability among affected lodging businesses
    • TPA Funding Application Form (2017) - Form for businesses and organizations wishing to obtain tourism promotion funding for projects through the TPA
  • Union Gap
  • Yakima County Tourism Promotion Area - Yakima, Selah, Union Gap, and unincorporated areas
    • Yakima Municipal Code Ch. 5.99 - Establishes $2 fee and advisory committee

Local Tourism Programs

The following are a few examples of tourism program information from Washington cities and counties:

Tourism Advisory Committees

A few cities have created committees to advise on tourism, while others include this function within the focus of an Economic Development Committee.


Cultural and Heritage Tourism

History and culture provide a key opportunity for tourism-related economic development promoters and planners. The educational experience from heritage tourism can be partnered with other tourist attractions. This section provides resources for local governments to use in developing cultural and heritage tourism. It includes local examples of cultural events, tours, and communities that have capitalized on their historic heritage.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation's (NTHP) definition of cultural heritage tourism is "traveling to experience the places and activities that authentically represent the stories and people of the past and present. It includes irreplaceable historic, cultural and natural resources." The NTHP identified five principles to guide the combining of heritage and tourism: collaborate; find the fit between a community or region and tourism; make sites and programs come alive; focus on authenticity and quality of experience; and preserve and protect resources. See NTHP Cultural Heritage 2012 Fact Sheet .

Information Resources on Cultural and Heritage Tourism

The following resources provide useful background and guidance on cultural and heritage tourism.

Economic Impact of Cultural Tourism

One of the primary benefits of cultural and heritage tourism is the economic impact on a community. While this is difficult to measure, it can be an important element of a local economic development strategy.

Examples of Cultural and Heritage Tourism

The following are a few examples of cultural and heritage tourism promotional materials and activities from communities around Washington State. Some of these are sponsored by chambers of commerce and other local organizations.


Ecotourism

Environmental tourism, ecotourism, or nature tourism provides an opportunity to visit undisturbed natural areas, scenic vistas, and to observe plants and wildlife. Washington state offers many opportunities for local governments to promote their natural environments to visitors. While maximizing the economic, environmental, and social benefits from ecotourism, the local environment must be protected. This section provides links to information on how to create and promote a nature tourism destination.

Examples of Sites that Combine Nature and Marketing

The following are selected sites that promote ecotourism in Washington communities:

Information Resources on Nature Tourism

This section includes general information on creating and promoting nature tourism.

  • Tool Kits and Agritourism/Nature Tourism Planning Guides, Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, U.S. Department of Agriculture - Links to many useful nature tourism planning guides
  • Discover Your Northwest - Dedicated to increasing public appreciation of the rich cultural history and spectacular natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest; includes educational materials for the visiting public
  • About Geotourism, National Geographic Center for Sustainable Destinations - Defines geotourism and addresses sustainability

Economic Impact of Nature Tourism


Sports and Recreation Tourism

This section includes information on sports and recreation tourism. Sports tourism can be an important part of a community's economic development program.

There are many organizations that support the development of sports facilities and local events and encourage activities that will attract tourists and spur economic development.

Economic Impact of Sports and Recreation Tourism

Economic Impact of Sports Facilities


General Tourism References

Several of the links below address tourism in Washington State.


Last Modified: July 30, 2019