Washington closes tourism office in face of budget cuts

Jun 30, 2011

Today Washington state closes its official tourism agency making it the only state in the nation to abandon all funding for self-promotion. The closure comes at a time when tourism is one of the fastest growing economic sectors in the world.

State support for the agency had been as high as $7 million but was slashed to about $2 million in the last year. And now, as the state struggled to cover a staggering $4.6 billion dollar deficit, Marsha Massey, Executive Director of Washington’s State Tourism Office, said the final blow was inevitable.

“Unfortunately, when the legislators are having to make really difficult decisions around things like education and social services, everything was on the table. And tourism is one of those things that was on the table.”

It's a dilemma a number of states confront as the recession continues and they strive to juggle budget cuts and devise new strategies to spur economic growth. Across the country about half the states are cutting their tourism budgets, while the others are investing millions more into luring new customers to their states.  

There is one cautionary tale: Colorado defunded its tourism bureau back in 1993, and they still haven't recovered their full market share even though the office was reinstated in 2000. But according to Al White, who now heads the office, for every state dollar they spend on advertising, the return is $6.25. So, when it comes to tourism dollars it's every state for itself.

“I hate to say this but I think it’s an opportunity for us in Colorado to pick up market share when our competitors find themselves out of the market. If  you don't tell people your story, people won't show up.”

In Washington, tourism will still get a boost from regional visitors bureaus and a new private sector group called the Washington Tourism Alliance. They’ve taken over the state’s marketing databases and website.

Last year, travelers spent more than $15 billion despite the budget reduction last year, according to the state’s tourism office. That amount brought in about $1 billion in tax revenue for the state.