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
- Bellingham / Whatcom County 2018-2022 Cultural Heritage Tourism Strategic Plan
- Port Orchard 2017-2018 Tourism Promotion Strategic Plan
- Snohomish County 2018-2022 Strategic Tourism Plan
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 within such counties, but effective June 11, 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 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. Effective June 11, 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 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 "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 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.
Any tourism promotion area fee imposed after January 1, 2020 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.
- 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
- Skagit County Interlocal Cooperative Agreement for a Skagit County Tourism Promotion Area (2020) – An agreement between the county and multiple cities to establish a joint tourism area where the county is the legislative authority.
- 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
- Ordinance No. 2707 (2011) - Establishes citywide TPA with flat rate of $2 per night
- Tourism Promotion Area Management Agreement (2011) - Agreement to manage operational and administrative activities for TPA
- Yakima County Tourism Promotion Area (Yakima, Selah, Union Gap, and unincorporated areas)
- Municipal Code Ch. 5.99 - Establishes $2 fee and advisory committee
Examples of Local Tourism Programs and Advisory Committees
The following are a few examples of tourism program information from Washington cities and counties:
- Cowlitz County "The Big Idea" Interlocal Agreement (2014) - Reconstitutes original 2011 agreement for Cowlitz County Regional Tourism Development Partnership Program AKA "The Big Idea" and Tourism Board of Directors Agreement with Longview, Kelso, Castle Rock, Kalama, and Woodland.
- Kirkland Tourism Program and Explore Kirkland.com - Official Kirkland tourism site
- Moses Lake Visitors - Guide with information on local events, attractions, lodging, etc.
- Visit Kitsap Peninsula Port Orchard - Tourism site
- Whidbey & Camano Islands - 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. 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 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 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.
Information Resources on Cultural and Heritage Tourism
The following resources provide useful background and guidance on cultural and heritage tourism.
- Cultural Heritage Tourism - A great starting point for information on this topic. A resource for organizations and individuals who are developing, marketing or managing cultural heritage tourism attractions or programs.
- National Trust for Historic Preservation: Heritage Tourism
- Florida Department of State: Cultural Tourism Toolkit - Toolkit to assist cultural organizations in finding new ways to collaborate with the tourism industry.
- Texas Historical Commission Heritage Tourism Guidebook (2007) - Step-by-step guide for the development of heritage tourism to preserve historic and cultural resources and boost economies. Appendix includes a Physical Inventory Worksheet for appraising assets for potential development.
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. Below are some useful resources on this topic:
- U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA): Challenges of Estimating and Using Economic Impacts for Cultural Tourism (2004) - Provides a useful introduction to the topic based on a recent Michigan study.
- Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historical Preservation: Economic Benefits of Historic Preservation (2007) - This study includes economic impacts of heritage tourism
- Advisory Council on Historic Preservation: Measuring Economic Impacts of Historic Preservation (2013) - Offers a study carried out to identify indicators that can be used to measure the economic impact of historic preservation over time and understand the economic roles and impact of historic preservation
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.
- San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau: Historic Sites in the San Juans
- Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation: National Maritime Heritage Area Study - Information about Washington State's proposed National Maritime Heritage Area
- EnjoyPortTownsend: Port Townsend History
- Visit Seattle: Cultural Heritage
- 4Culture: Destination Heritage - A guide to historic places and heritage events around King County
- LewisAndClarkTrail.com: Lewis and Clark Trail - Washington
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:
- State of Washington Tourism: Experience a State of Wanderlust - Official tourism site of the State of Washington; includes information on wildlife, scenic areas, and outdoor activities
- San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau: Experiences & Itineraries - Includes ecotourism activities such as wildlife and outdoor experiences
- The Central Cascades Geotourism Project of Oregon and Washington - Created by Travel Oregon and Experience Washington in association with National Geographic
- San Juan Chamber of Commerce: San Juan County Wildlife
- Snohomish County Tourism Bureau: Open Up to the Great Outdoors
Information Resources on Nature Tourism
This section includes general information on creating and promoting nature tourism.
- 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
- National Geographic Center for Sustainable Destinations: About Geotourism - Defines geotourism and addresses sustainability
Economic Impact of Nature Tourism
- Earth Economics: Nature's Value in Clallam County: Policy Implications of the Economic Benefits of Feed Bluffs and 12 Other Ecosystems (2013)
- American Trails:
- Trails Mace Economic Sense
- Resource Library: Economic Benefits - Links to various articles and the economic benefit of trails
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.
- National Association of Sports Commissions
- Washington Festivals and Events Association (WFEA) - Nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the common business interests of the festivals and events industry in Washington State, including an annual conference and other professional education and leadership development
- Seattle Sports Commission - Nonprofit agency dedicated to creating economic development through sports and recreation, supporting the local sports community, and promoting health and fitness in the Puget Sound area
- Snohomish County Sports Commission
- Spokane Sports
- Tri-Cities Sports Council - Project of the Tri-Cities Visitor & Convention Bureau
- Tacoma-Pierce County Sports Commission
- Tacoma Resolution No. 37108 (2007) - Authorizes a two-year agreement with the Sports Commission to provide assistance in attracting amateur athletic events
- Wenatchee Valley Sports Council
- Yakima Valley Sports Commission
Economic Impact of Sports and Recreation Tourism
- University of Minnesota: The Benefits of Bicycling in Minnesota (2004)
- League of American Bicyclists: Bicycling Means Business - The Economic Benefits of Bicycle Infrastructure (2012)
- Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office:
- Economic Analysis of Outdoor Recreation in Washington State (2015)
- Economic Benefits of Outdoor Recreation in Washington Fact Sheet - Short summary of the full report
- ResearchGate: Doing Better - Sports, Economic Impact Analysis, and Schools of Public Policy and Administration (2009)
Economic Impact of Sports Facilities
- Seattle Athletic Stadium 5 Year Impact Study (2006) - Prepared by Property Counselors for City Of Seattle Office of Planning and Development and office of Economic Development
- Heartland Institute: A Decade of Research on Sports Stadiums (2005)
- Lincoln Institute of Land Policy: Identifying the Real Costs and Benefits of Sports Facilities (2002)
- State of Washington Tourism (SWT) - Non-profit organization created in 2011 following the announcement of the closure of the Washington State Tourism office
- Washington Chamber of Commerce Executives (WCCE): Directory
- Tourism - Chapter 13 in Learning to Lead: A Primer on Economic Development Strategies (1999) - From the former Community, Trade and Economic Development (now Department of Commerce). Older but still useful
- National Agricultural Library Rural Information Center: Rural Tourism
- U.S. Department of Commerce: National Travel and Tourism Office