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Tourism Industry and Local Governments


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.

This page addresses local planning for tourism, tourism programs of Washington local governments, and mechanisms to finance tourism activities. For information on Lodging Tax (Hotel-Motel Tax) see MRSC page Lodging Tax (Hotel-Motel Tax). The page outlines what you need to know about lodging tax and 2013 legislative changes.

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 expert Roger Brooks emphasized the importance of catering to visitors in his remarks at a planning conference:

  • Quality is more important than money - but visitors still expect value
  • Convenience is mandatory
  • Curb appeal is critical: it can be a primary drawing card ... or a detractor
  • Quality: accommodations, dining, shopping, attractions
  • Pedestrian-oriented activities
  • Things to see and do: are they convenient?
  • Available visitor services

Tourism - Marketing Plans

Financing Tourism

Hotel-Motel (Lodging) Tax

The hotel-motel tax or lodging tax is the primary source of funds for tourism promotion. See MRSC page on Lodging Tax (Hotel-Motel Tax). It outlines what you need to know about lodging tax and 2013 legislative changes.

  • Ch. 67.28 RCW - Public Stadium, Convention, Arts, and Tourism Facilities - Authorizes municipalities to impose taxes on lodging facilities under this chapter and acquire and operate tourism-related facilities.

Lodging Tax Advisory Committees

For information on the Lodging Tax Advisory Committee, the application process, and sample code provisions, see MRSC page on Lodging Tax (Hotel-Motel Tax)

Tourism Promotion Areas (TPA)

A tourism promotion area may be established by counties and cities within the county for the purpose of imposing a special assessment on lodging businesses to fund convention and tourism promotion (see Ch. 35.101 RCW - Tourism Promotion Areas). Interlocal agreements are required with each city and community in the proposed TPA

  • Pierce County Tourism Promotion Area
    • Ordinance No. 2009-110s - Creates tourism tromotion area, passed 1/12/2010
    • Interlocal agreement – with Tacoma, DuPont, Fife, Gig Harbor, Lakewood, Puyallup, Sumner for the establishment of a Pierce County Tourism Promotion Area
  • Seattle Business Improvement Tourism Area
    • Ordinance No. 123714 - Establishes a Seattle Tourism Business Improvement Area; levying special assessments upon hotel businesses within the area; providing for the deposit of revenues in a special account and expenditures therefrom; providing for collection of and penalties for delinquencies; providing for the establishment of a Ratepayers Advisory Board, and providing for an implementation agreement with a program manager, passed 09/26/2011
  • Seattle Southside Tourism Promotion Area
    • Interlocal agreement between SeaTac, Tukwila and Des Moines for the joint establishment of a tourism promotion area, 5/2014
  • Spokane County Tourism Promotion Area
    • Interlocal agreement between Spokane County, Spokane and Spokane Valley to establish a Tourism Promotion Area, 2003
    • Liberty Lake Ordinance No. 127 - Creates a tourism promotion area and joint agreement with the Spokane County Tourism Promotion Area, passed 07/06/2004
  • Tri-Cities Tourism Promotion Area - Richland, Kennewick, and Pasco
    • Richland Municipal Code Ch. 5.36 - Special Lodging Assessment
  • Union Gap
    • Ordinance No. 2707 - Establishes Union Gap Tourism Promotion Area, passed 02/28/2011
    • Agreement to manage operational and administrative activities for the Union Gap Tourism Promotion Area (UGTPA); December 1, 2011 until terminated
  • Wenatchee Resolution No. 2010-43 - Establishes a tourism marketing area, passed 09/15/2006
  • Yakima County Tourism Promotion Area - Yakima, the Selah, Union Gap, and the unincorporated area of Yakima County
    • Yakima Municipal Code Ch. 5.99 - Tourism Promotion Area

Local Tourism Programs

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

  • AWC Cityvision, March/April 2012, vol. 4 no. 2, issue on Leisure Time - Several articles: City Beat, and Featured Article on Communities that tout visitor-friendly features attract crucial tourism dollars by Ted Katauskas; CityWise covers branding, special events liability, excellence in a tourism role, and economic development counsel.
  • Cowlitz County "The Big Idea" Interlocal Agreement , 2011 and First Addendum 2014, Cowlitz County Regional Tourism Development Partnership Program AKA "The Big Idea" and Tourism Board of Directors, 07/2011 - Agreement with Longview, Kelso, Castle Rock, Kalama, and Woodland
  • Kirkland Tourism Program and Explore - Official Kirkland tourism site
  • Moses Lake Visitors - Guide with information on local events, attractions, lodging, etc.
  • Port Orchard Tourism
  • Whidbey Camano Islands - Island County tourism site

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.


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: January 08, 2016