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Chambers of commerce reel in almost 60 percent of tourism funding
A special tax collected from lodging industry businesses in Island County will contribute $150,000 toward tourism promotion next year.
The Island County Commissioners last week approved yearly grant allotments from the fund. A total of 20 different private and public organizations and another three public agencies on Whidbey and Camano islands are slated to receive money.
As is custom, the bulk of the fund — 59 percent — is going to the county’s six chambers of commerce, located in Oak Harbor, Coupeville, Freeland, Langley, Clinton and on Camano Island.
“They usually get the lion’s share ... that’s the backbone of our outreach,” Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said.
Commonly referred to as the hotel/motel tax, it’s one of two such taxes that each collect 2 percent from the sales of lodging industry business. Organizations with focuses on tourism then bid on the money.
A committee made up of business leaders and elected officials reviews the grant applications and then makes recommendations to the board on where the money should be allocated.
As is required by state law, the commissioners have the final say on how the money is distributed.
Also required is that the money only be spent on tourism promotion. According to Price Johnson, chambers tend to get the largest grants because they operate visitor centers and information kiosks.
Although the grant amounts have not always been equal in the past, the committee recommended this year to give the five largest chambers the same amount of money — $21,000.
Clinton was awarded $4,500 largely because of its small size but also because that’s all it applied for, according to Lynda Eccles, executive director of the Coupeville Chamber of Commerce and a member of the selection committee.
For Coupeville, Eccles said the money makes up a substantial portion part of the chamber’s budget to operate its visitor information center in the old firehall on NW Alexander Street.
“We be lost without 2 percent money,” Eccles said.
The chamber also plans to invest in off-island advertising, both in print and online venues, promoting Coupeville events. Eccles said they will also subscribe to the Certified Folder Display Service, which puts brochures in hotels and other visitor locations in urban areas.
Marc Esterly, executive director of the chamber in Langley, is also looking forward to a big year. The city will celebrate its centennial in 2013 and a little extra money this year — 2012 allotment was $18,500 — will go a long way to getting the word out.
“It comes at a time when it can be put to good use,” Esterly said.
Money will also be spent to promote the other 10 major events held every year in the Village by the Sea, he said.
Oak Harbor also has a specific promotional direction planned for next year. Nothing has been finalized yet but chamber director and Island County Commissioner-elect Jill Johnson said she expects money will be spent on the chamber’s new promotional slogan, “Just a splash past Deception Pass.”
The park is one of the most frequently visited state parks in Washington with nearly two million visitors a year.
“It’s our most underutilized resource,” Johnson said. “We have to get that traffic down from the bridge.”
Other organizations that will receive money include the Coupeville Arts Center, Coupeville Historic Waterfront Association, Greenbank Farm, Northwest Agriculture Business Center, Whidbey Island Arts Council, Island County Historical Society, Meerkerk Rhododendron Gardens, the PBY Memorial Foundation in Oak Harbor, Whidbey Island Farm Tour and several groups on Camano Island. None of those grants exceeded $2,900.
Finally, $21,000 went to three public agencies and groups. Island County Public Works will receive $7,000 for marketing and advertising of Four Springs Lake Preserve on Camano Island, the Trust Board for Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve was awarded $10,000 for the Jacob Ebey House Visitor Center and farm brochures and the Island County Historical Society is getting $4,000 for tourist services, information and entertainment.