State tourism is up but lags behind national rate



Posted on March 12, 2013 at 9:43 AM

Updated Tuesday, Mar 12 at 12:47 PM

More people are visiting Washington state, according to the Washington Tourism Alliance.

The new numbers were unveiled on Tuesday at the 3rd Annual Tourism Summit in Olympia.  

According to the WTA, tourism in Washington state grew by 2.1 percent in 2012, but lagged behind the national growth rate of 5.2 percent.

The executive director of the WTA said the closure of the state tourism office in 2011 is largely to blame for the lower numbers.

Two years ago, budget cuts led lawmakers to shutter the tourism department. The decision made Washington the only state in the country without a state-funded tourism program.

Since then, the Washington Tourism Alliance has taken up the charge. The group is made up of hotel, restaurant, rental-car company owners and other professionals. Together they have raised $500,000 to promote tourism in Washington.

But WTA Executive Director Louise Stanton-Masten said that's still not enough when other states in our region spend between $10 million to $60 million.

"It's critical that we address our competitive disadvantage to Oregon, Idaho, Montana, California and every other state for that matter, all of which boast dramatically larger tourism marketing budgets and are poised to capture our share of the lucrative tourism market," said Stanton-Masten.

More than 200 professionals who attended the Tourism Summit talked about ways to find more long-term funding for the tourism industry in Washington state

In 2012, visitors spent $16.9 billion - up 4.4 percent compared to 2011. Tourism also supported more than 153,300 jobs in 2012 and generated payroll earnings of $4.7 billion last year