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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.


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 the Department of Commerce's Choose Washington: Tourism page.

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. Below are some examples of local tourism marketing plans.

Additionally, the Washington State Department of Commerce has established the Tourism Marketing Authority (TMA) to oversee a statewide tourism marketing plan (2018). See Ch. 43.384 RCW.

Examples of  Local 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 city or county may form a tourism promotion area (TPA) to generate revenue for tourism promotion (chapter 35.101 RCW). Previously, this authority was limited to counties over 40,000 population and the cities and towns in those counties, but as of 2020, the state legislature removed the population requirement.

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 counties 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." See chapter 82.08 RCW for more explanation. As of 2020, the legislative body may impose an additional charge of up to $3 per room per night if it has secured the signatures of the persons who operate lodging businesses who would pay 60% or more of the proposed charges. This additional $3 nightly charge expires July 1, 2027.

The legislative body may establish up to six different lodging classifications, sometimes referred to as “zones,” with different rates in each. The classifications must only be based on geographic location, number of rooms, or room revenue.

Lodging businesses with fewer than 40 rooms are exempt and may not be assessed.

The state Department of Revenue has emphasized that while the statute allows TPAs to classify lodging charges based on the number of rooms, room revenue, or geographic location, it does not allow lodging charges to be based upon the type of lodging. For example, a TPA may not exempt or charge different fees upon specific types of lodging such as RV parks that rent spaces, private lodging houses, long-term room rentals, guest ranches, etc.

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 "to promote tourism that increases the number of tourists to the area" (RCW 35.101.130(1)). Definitions of "tourism promotion" and "tourist" are provided in RCW 35.101.010.

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 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.

Any tourism promotion area fee must be repealed if a majority of the lodging businesses assessed the charges petitions to the legislative body in writing to remove the charge (RCW 35.101.130). The legislative authority may determine the timing of when to remove the charge so that the effective date of the expiration will not adversely affect existing contractual obligations, not to exceed 12 months. Any fee in place as of January 1, 2020 is not subject to this provision unless the jurisdiction increases the charge under RCW 35.101.057.


Examples of Local Tourism Programs and Advisory Committees

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. Below are some examples of advisory committees:

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 also 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, artifacts, and activities that authentically represent the stories and people of the past and present. It includes visitation to cultural, historic, and natural resources." The NTHP identified five strategies 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.

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 are the economic impacts for communities. While this is difficult to measure, it can be an important element of a local economic development strategy. Below are some useful resources on this topic:

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 provides opportunities to visit undisturbed natural areas, scenic vistas, 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 nature tourism destinations.

Examples of Sites that Combine Nature and Marketing

The following are sites promote ecotourism in Washington communities:

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

Last Modified: March 05, 2024