New state tax data indicate Langley is setting records as a tourist destination.
Revenue in sales and lodging taxes collected during the first quarter of 2018 show some of the best monthly figures over a 10-year period, according to State Department of Revenue data released by city officials.
City Hall is set to collect more sales tax revenue this year than 2017, which was also a record year, said Mayor Tim Callison.
“Our biggest revenue months historically have not yet been recorded,” he said, “but we are already ahead of last year.”
In 2017, total sales within the city of Langley added up to $47 million. Sales tax revenue that year was $404,146, up 8 percent from the previous year. For the first quarter of 2018, sales tax revenue is $196,957.
Collected at motels and hotels, the lodging tax also set records the first three months of 2018 when compared to the same months in 2017. Lodging tax revenue in 2017 was $155,375. During this year’s first quarter, nearly $60,000 has been collected.
Judging by Langley’s crowded restaurants, streets and shops, this summer seems on track to continue the record-breaking trend.
“Tourism has gone up year by year but I think this summer, it’s really exploded,” said Michele LaRue in between helping customers with clothing at Fair Trade Outfitters.
Owner of numerous retail outlets over 45 years in Langley, LaRue has a long-term view of what makes a tourist town remain attractive.
“To have businesses to get a boost, the town has to be vigilant about protecting our community and nature,” she said. “We work hard encouraging interesting kinds of businesses. The balance is important.
“If it’s all T-shirt shops, you’re toast,” she added, “but Langley will never become that.”
Since Langley’s principal economic activity is tourism, which includes lodging, restaurants and small retail shops, tax data show the dips and surges of business, Callison explained.
“These are the base-line numbers that we use to view the health of our economy,” he said.
Callison attributed Langley’s popularity to many factors, including increased niche media exposure in travel, wine and garden publications and stepped-up social media marketing and advertising by the Langley Chamber of Commerce and Island County Tourism.
Another reason — it’s quirky.
And it keeps on getting quirkier.
Tuesday, when Canadian visitors Kelaynna Kikkert and Maria Quagla spotted colorful wings at the corner of First and Anthes streets, they knew what their first photo of Langley would be.
“They jumped out of the car to take selfies,” said Elaine Moore, Kikkert’s mother. “That painting was well placed.”
Along with Elaine’s husband, Brian Moore, the foursome traveled down for a day trip from British Columbia to explore Whidbey Island, particularly Langley. The bright wings — be they from a faerie or angel — float from a makeshift construction gate alongside The Dog House that’s undergoing renovation.
Looking over the state data for an overall picture of visitation trends, the past five years have seen a steady annual increase of visitors, said Inge Morascini, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce.
Tourism tax revenue, also known as lodging tax, increased 37 percent from 2012 to 2017, she said. Sales tax income increased by 35 percent during the same time period.
“That is substantial growth,” said Morascini.
Sales tax revenue is used to track economic trends. Increases occur when the real estate and construction market is up, but it’s also an indication of better times for local businesses, Morascini said.
“I would say the numbers indicate increased tourism, no doubt,” she said.
Langley’s tax revenue took a downturn from a high in 2008 and remained at a lower level until it began to climb in 2014, Callison said.
The state collects the 8.7 percent sales tax paid to merchants and vendors that do business within the City of Langley and distributes the city’s portion on a monthly basis, explained Debbie Mahler, finance director.
For every $100 of goods or services purchased in Langley, a sales tax of $8.70 is paid. Of that amount the city receives 85 cents, which is distributed to government services.
While Langley continues to boost visitation during its slower shoulder season, it seems to have all the other seasons covered.
In summer, its cooler maritime climate attracts sweltering crowds from “America,” also known as the mainland or Seattle. February brings in swarms of wanna-be detectives to Mystery Weekend, which saw a record crowd of 2,700 people this year.
“That’s continued to grow year by year,” Morascini said, “but (events) hit a saturation point.”
In spring, more excursion boats for whale watching bumped up local sales when visitors were given two hours to wander, shop and eat in the village as boats docked.
Come December, Langley dresses up its streets with old-fashioned flare and unique, artsy gifts fill shop windows.
Clipper Vacations is again offering holiday weekend shopping trips to Langley this December, Morascini said. When the Christmas tours began in December 2017, it provided a 16 percent boost in sales tax revenue compared to the previous December, she said.
Prior to 2015, larger excursion boats couldn’t stop at Langley’s dock.
The Port of South Whidbey District added 330 feet of dock space to South Whidbey Harbor with a $1.7-million project that wrapped up in 2014, making it possible for larger cruise boats to tie up in Langley.
Sitting on a bench in front of Sprinklz Ice Cream and Coffee Shop, a family from Enumclaw enjoyed cones while taking in the view of Saratoga Passage on a recent afternoon.
Chris Wayman, sitting next to his husband, Kodie Wayman, said he visited Langley when he was 10 years old.
“I’m 33 now, so that’s quite awhile ago,” he said. “We love it here.”
“And it’s quiet, it’s really quiet,” added his grandfather, Richard Richardson. “I came out of the VRBO this morning and said, ‘Listen.’
“They said, ‘To what?’