Letter from the Director

Seal's Motel, Aurora Ave, Seattle © 4Culture
Seal's Motel, Aurora Ave, Seattle © 4Culture

Tourism and the Economy

Seal's Motel, Aurora Ave, Seattle © 4Culture
Seal's Motel, Aurora Ave, Seattle © 4Culture

Simply put, the economic impact of tourism in our region is huge.

Consider the following data from 2010 for Seattle and King County:

  • 9.3 million overnight stays
  • Visitor expenditures total $5.5 billion, including $1.1 billion for lodging, $1.2 billion for food services, $573 million in retail sales (visitors shop!)
  • Visitors pay $440 million in state and local taxes ($992 million statewide)
  • Local transportation and gas expenditure are $1.1 billion
  • And my favorite:  visitors spend $457 million on arts, recreation and entertainment.

This industry has a tremendous return on investment, especially considering how little the state of Washington spends on tourism promotion: $0.00.  Last year, due to budget constraints, the state closed its tourism office at a time when other places wrestling with the same budget challenges increased investment in tourism as an economic development strategy.   Montana spends $9.2 million on tourism promotion.  You can see the results locally if you use the downtown bus tunnel, which has been flooded with billboards promoting travel to Montana.  California, with one of the largest state budget deficits spends $50 million annually on tourism.  British Columbia invests $60 million.  Maybe we’re hoping visitors to BC will pass through Seattle on their way.  Not a very proactive approach.

Last fall, the Seattle Hotel Association and the Convention and Visitors Bureau decided to do something about this.  They championed city legislation that created a Tourism Improvement Area to assess a $2.00 fee on every occupied room, which creates a $5-6 million dollar fund to promote Seattle.  Statewide, travel industry stakeholders created the totally membership funded Washington Tourism Alliance to take over some of the functions of the now defunct Washington Tourism Office.

Consider tourism’s impact on arts and culture.  According to both ArtsFund and Americans for the Arts, almost 40% of audiences for King County cultural organizations are non-local.   Non-local arts audiences spend twice as much as local attendees ($40.19 compared to $19.53), demonstrating that a community that attracts cultural tourists stands to harness significant economic rewards.

4Culture’s programs are funded by lodging taxes.  The more visitors that choose Seattle and King County for leisure or convention travel, the more resources there are to support arts, heritage and cultural activity.

Because of this, 4Culture has launched a pilot program related to tourism marketing and promotion.  In our 2012 budget, 4Culture has allocated $100,000 for a Cultural Tourism Marketing Initiative to support major exhibits and performances that attract over 100,000 visitors to our region.  This is admittedly a modest investment.  But it’s a start.  We also acknowledge that the universe of eligible applicants is fairly small.   The initiative is specifically aimed at marketing outside the region.

The guidelines and application are currently on our website.  The application deadline is March 22nd.

This is a pilot program.  We are committed to supporting tourism and finding new approaches to help the industry that helps us all.

Jim Kelly