Washington Delegation Stands Up for Our State’s Travel Sector

Washington Delegation Stands Up for Our State’s Travel Sector

This op-ed appeared in The Spokesman-Review on May 14, 2022

By David Blandford and Meg Winchester

The United States has a well-earned reputation as one of the most desirable destinations for travelers from all over the world. However, the COVID-19 pandemic severely limited global travel, impacting the small businesses and workers that depend on international guests. Fortunately, Congress has come together to provide much needed support to this vital sector by passing the Restoring Brand USA Act.

After two long years of pandemic restrictions, every sector of our statewide tourism industry is eager to accelerate the return of visitors, especially those from other countries who stay longer and spend more here in Washington.

But, despite our border with Canada and SEA’s wealth of overseas flights, international travel has been slow to recover from primary markets such as Canada and the United Kingdom. That’s why we are so grateful to Sen. Maria Cantwell and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers for their bipartisan leadership passing the Restoring Brand USA Act, which is a smart public-private partnership that supports American jobs and economic activity by promoting international travel to the United States. Its renewal is vital to jump-starting international travel to Washington, and best of all, it operates at no cost to U.S. taxpayers.

With Sen. Cantwell serving as chair of the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee and Rep. McMorris Rodgers serving as the top Republican of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee, our Congressional delegation played an outsized role in shaping and shepherding this essential legislation. It’s encouraging to see elected officials in different parties and chambers working together to help pass a bill that matters to Washington State’s tourism and hospitality workers and businesses.

While our industry works in concerted partnership to restore international visitation, marketing muscle of Brand USA will greatly help drive visitors back to Spokane, Seattle and other cities, rural and underserved communities, wine regions, national parks, and scenic byways, expediting recovery for communities and businesses.

The passage of the Restoring Brand USA Act as part of a larger funding package shows that Congress understands the essential role international inbound travel plays in boosting our economy. Prior to the pandemic, international travel was our nation’s top services export and the second-largest industry export overall – generating $233 billion in export spending and supporting nearly 1.2 million American jobs.

Unfortunately, the pandemic severely diminished international visitation. While domestic leisure travel is returning to pre-pandemic levels, international travel spending in the U.S. is still approximately 78% below 2019 levels.

Economic forecasts predict that international travel spending will not recover until 2024 without this significant federal support.

The reduction in international travel to the U.S. has also impacted Brand USA’s funding source. Half of its budget is generated through a fee that international visitors from Visa Waiver Program countries pay when applying to come to the United States. Without visitors coming in during the pandemic, that support evaporated and without federal assistance could have remained dry for years to come. The recently passed Restoring Brand USA Act provided one-time emergency funding to restart and reinvigorate the work of bringing travelers back to Washington.

Brand USA can help travel, hospitality and other service sectors that depend on international visitors by restarting promotional campaigns in critically important source markets and driving the demand that will revive the American travel economy. As an added bonus, this support comes without taxpayer funds. The source of this one-time emergency funding is from previously collected surplus visitor fees. For every dollar spent through Brand USA, the return on investment is 25 to 1.

As we move ahead to the next stage of the pandemic, we are grateful to Sen. Cantwell and Rep. McMorris Rodgers for continuing to stand up for Washington’s travel and hospitality workers. They understand the importance of getting this vital sector of our economy back on track as soon as possible.

David Blandford is executive director at State of Washington Tourism in Seattle. Meg Winchester is president and CEO of Visit Spokane. 

SWT Launching Tourism Skillshop Webinar Series

State of Washington Tourism Launching Tourism Skillshop Webinar Series

In an ongoing effort to engage with professionals across the tourism sector, State of Washington Tourism (SWT) is launching Tourism Skillshop, a free educational webinar series.

Each month, SWT will host a webinar highlighting a specific topic or skill for tourism professionals to discuss with industry experts. Special attention will be devoted to issues affecting those in rural and underserved communities.

The webinars will be held from 10-11 a.m. on the third Thursday of each month via Zoom. The first webinar, FAM Tour Best Practices, will be held April 21 and focus on tips for planning familiarization (FAM) tours. Attendees will have the opportunity to discuss the topic with colleagues and ask questions of industry experts with years of experience.

Guest panelists for the FAM Tour Best Practices webinar include:

The speakers will address a range of best practices involving cost, planning, key stakeholders, and the visitor experience. The panel will be moderated by Matthew Ozuna, destination development manager for SWT. All webinars will be recorded and shared with registrants.

Register for the Webinar.

To help identify topics for future webinars in the Tourism Skillshop series, SWT encourages industry professionals to complete a 2-minute survey. Participation is voluntary and personal information will not be shared.

Take the survey.

For webinar and general industry updates, follow SWT on LinkedIn.

Have questions? Please contact Matthew Ozuna.

About State of Washington Tourism

State of Washington Tourism (the recently rebranded Washington Tourism Alliance) is a 501(c)(6) organization established by industry stakeholders with the sole mission of developing and sustaining Washington State destination tourism marketing. SWT procures and administers funds for state destination tourism marketing activities and creates and implements the strategic statewide destination marketing plan. Visit the destination website at www.stateofWAtourism.com or the tourism industry site at www.industry.stateofWAtourism.com.

State of Washington Tourism Seeks Applicants for Rural Tourism Support Program

State of Washington Tourism Seeks Applicants for Rural Tourism Support Program

SEATTLE (March 10, 2022) — State of Washington Tourism (SWT) is seeking applicants for the Rural Tourism Support (RTS) program. This program will guide the development of an actionable vision for regional tourism among stakeholders in several communities.

Destination marketing organizations, businesses, community organizations, local governments, tribal governments and enterprises, or a combination thereof are all encouraged to apply. The application period for the RTS program will close on April 20, and the inductee for fall 2022 will be announced on May 11. Applicants must identify tourism as an economic development strategy and intend to work collaboratively with regional partners as a visitor destination.

The RTS program will implement a community tourism approach to destination development and be facilitated by sustainable tourism expert Kristin Dahl, founder of Crosscurrent Collective. A committee of local stakeholders will determine key action items, including a 10-year vision for the evolution of the destination and a better understanding of how regional, national and global travel trends apply locally, with the goal of improving the quality of place for visitors and residents.

Upon successful completion of the program after 6-8 months, tourism stakeholders are encouraged to apply for financial assistance from SWT and other benefactors to support priority projects identified in a series of community workshops.

“The RTS program is a key pillar of SWT’s destination development plan,” said David Blandford, executive director of SWT. “It will serve as a model for communities across the state to strive for more sustainable tourism growth.”

The next application cycle for the RTS program will open this fall, with community workshops set for spring 2023. After a competitive review by industry experts, the Tri-County Economic Development District (TEDD) in Northeastern Washington was selected as the inaugural destination for the RTS program.

“It is so exciting to think of the possibilities that a project with the scope of the Rural Tourism Support Program can bring to northeast Washington,” said Shelly Stevens, director of regional marketing for TEDD. “The pandemic has changed the way people travel and how they experience a destination. The timing couldn’t be better to collaboratively develop a thoughtful, regionwide tourism plan to help guide stakeholders into the future.”

To apply, download the application for the RTS program. For questions regarding the application process or other aspects of the program, contact Matthew Ozuna, SWT destination development manager, at matthew@stateofwatourism.com. He will receive applications via email until 5 p.m. on April 20. Please include “Destination Development Application” in the subject line.

About State of Washington Tourism

State of Washington Tourism (the recently rebranded Washington Tourism Alliance) is a 501(c)(6) organization established by industry stakeholders with the sole mission of developing and sustaining Washington State destination tourism marketing. SWT procures and administers funds for state destination tourism marketing activities and creates and implements the strategic statewide destination marketing plan. Visit the destination website at www.stateofWAtourism.com or the tourism industry site at www.industry.stateofWAtourism.com.