New jobs & an economic boost via proposed Seattle Tourism Improvement Area initiative



One week ago, I asked the “Question of the Week” via my Facebook page. We are at the peak of Seattle’s summer and I inquired, “Where do you take your out of town guests?”

Answers varied on what constituted the hidden gems – perhaps the places or things an average Seattle visitor wouldn’t know to see without a local directing the visit. Volunteer Park is popular, with both the Conservatory and Water Tower being mentioned. The Locks, the Fremont Troll, the Arboretum, and Kubota Garden were all shown some love.

My favorite is a walk-on ticket for the ferry to Bainbridge. Timed well, we can give visitors the jaw-dropping treat of sunset gold on skyscrapers. And for a true hidden treasure, the suggestion of a vist to West Seattle’s Walker Rock Garden scored serious points.

The casual visitor to Seattle may not stumble across these destinations. And as of June 30th of this year, the chances of out-of-state travelers even choosing Seattle as a destination became a little slimmer.

As June ended, the State of Washington closed its tourism office and the funds to promote Seattle as a destination for those trips – summertime or otherwise – no longer exist. We are the only state in the union without any money dedicated to tourism marketing.

Walker Rock Garden. Photo by West Seattle Blog.

Meanwhile, our neighbors to the north in British Columbia pump $50 million into attracting travelers. The same amount is powering California’s appeal. Michigan will spend $25 million this year, and Oregon has dedicated $10 million. Even Montana bought advertising on our buses urging us to visit their mountain goats.

Here we are, in a state where tourism is the fourth largest industry, where visitors spent over $15 billion in 2010 at our restaurants, hotels, art and cultural events, and more. We are a city with thousands of hotel rooms and more than 400,000 square feet of space within the Convention Center, and the funds to promote us as a destination are cut off at the knees. It’s detrimental to our jobs and our quality of life.

The question to ask, then, is how does Seattle register on the radar of someone planning their vacation or a convention? And when they get here, how do these visitors find out about the local gems mentioned above and others like them if they don’t have the benefit of a local, a good guidebook, or a creative concierge?

In late July, Council passed Resolution 31309, proposing the establishment of a Seattle Tourism Improvement Area (STIA). The legislation is designed to increase leisure tourism in the Seattle by establishing a funding source dedicated to promoting all that the city center and its surrounding neighborhoods have to offer.

The STIA hotel zone in red. Galer to the north, 12th Ave to the east, Royal Brougham to the south, and the waterfront to the west.

Under guidance from Councilmember Tim Burgess, the plan would require hotels with 60+ rooms within the designated improvement area (roughly Galer Avenue to the north, 12th Ave to the east, Royal Brougham to the south, and the waterfront to the west) to levy a $2 surcharge per night for each occupied room. About 53 hotels fit the bill and we’re seeing support from many of them. 77% of the qualifying hotels actually submitted petitions to the Council asking for this legislation.

Once collected, the cash will fund marketing strategies crafted to attract individuals and families to come to the Emerald City for vacation. The promotional activities would be managed by Seattle’s Convention and Visitors Bureau (SCVB), who know a thing or two about getting people to travel to Seattle and keeping them here for a few days. Remember the gigantic Lions convention in early July that featured a 12,000-person parade through downtown? That’s the sort of product that SCVB helps deliver. We fill our hotel rooms, restaurant tables, and shops with the product of their efforts. 

According to the SCVB, the STIA would raise somewhere between $5-6 million in 2012 alone, and the funds will be dedicated to enhancing tourism. The economic impact of the initiative is predicted to be around $34.3 million, which will generate $3.42 million in state and local taxes and foster the creation of more than 550 new jobs in the hotel/hospitality sector.

The initiative will won’t cost the taxpayers or the City of Seattle a thing, and the expected result is improving hotel occupancy rates, sustaining current jobs while creating new ones, and increasing business at our restaurants, shops, and attractions.

Council held a public hearing on the proposed Seattle Tourism Improvement Area on Monday evening, August 8th, and those who testified were in support. Legislation establishing the STIA will be introduced today and will be referred to the Regional Development and Sustainability Committee for briefing and discussion on August 16th at 2pm. Committee action is expected at a second meeting on September 20th, followed by Full Council action on Monday, September 26. You can track the legislation via C.B. 117258 on the Clerk’s website.

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