Tourism promotion remains months away

More than two years after Island County hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts started paying a new tourism promotion tax, the committee charged with deciding how to bring more visitors from the island is still several months away from knowing how that will happen.

This month, a subcommittee working under the 18-member Joint Committee on Tourism is whittling away at a list of 28 advertising agencies and consultants with ideas on how to make the island a better-known tourism destination. By early next month, the full committee will choose a proposal from the shortened list and will begin spending approximately $250,000 in tax money dedicated to this purpose.

After getting a late start on its work last October, the committee probably won't have any advertising or promotions ready for Whidbey's and Camano Island's summer tourism season. But, said Rob Daniels, a Greenbank bed-and-breakfast owner and chairman of the selection subcommittee, autumn could see the first fruits from the island's hotel-motel tourism promotion tax. That is, if the advertising firm the committee hires is able to quickly identify who might want to be tourists on Whidbey and can figure out how to draw them here.

"We're looking for some guidance," Daniels said Thursday.

Reluctant to give out any specifics about the firms the subcommittee is considering, Daniels said only that he and other members of the body are "dumbfounded" with the number of proposals they have to consider. He said the volume of interested firms is well above the norm for almost any advertising campaign. Proposals came in from a number of regional firms, while others arrived from the East Coast, Texas and Arizona.

Preferring to keep the names of the firms up for consideration secret until the joint committee's May 2 meeting, Daniels did not say much about how these firms plan to do the job for which they hope to be hired. In general, their proposals include plans for Internet promotions, printed publications and using broadcast media.

None of this will be cheap.

"The monthly tab for that can run fairly high for these companies," he said.

Daniels said the subcommittee prefers to keep its selections out of the public eye until the joint committee meets because the list may change several times before then.

The taxes that fund the joint committee's projects are charged on overnight lodging in the county. Guests at hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts, and guest cottages pay a 4 percent tax on the price of their lodging. Half the revenues from the tax go directly to the committee. The other half is essentially a kickback from the state out of the sales tax it collects. The money is used by the county and cities to fund other types of tourism-related activities.

The city of Langley has a different deal on the tax breakdown than the rest of the county. The city contributes a 1 percent tax to the joint committee while it uses the other 3 percent to fund the Langley Chamber of Commerce, parks maintenance, maintenance on its public restrooms, and the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts.

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