MSNBC: It’s no secret that tourists and business travelers bring much-needed dollars to municipalities, but in the face of the unrelenting recession, many state and city budgets for tourism promotion around the nation have been slashed, if not eliminated.
A group of major Seattle hotels, faced with similar problems such as the closure of the Washington state tourism office in June, has thrown their support behind a Tourism Improvement Area to fund such promotion through a $2-a-night surcharge on hotel rooms. San Diego is another city that uses such taxes for promoting tourism.
The money is desperately needed to keep their industry moving forward, said Howard Cohen, president of the Seattle Hotel Association and manager of three downtown hotels for Clise Properties, Inc. When the state of Colorado eliminated its tourism office several years ago, it ended up losing a third of its tourism business, Cohen said.
“We’re trying to take the bull by the horns ourselves,” he said.
Seattle City Councilman Tim Burgess, who first proposed the idea, said that it’s anticipated that $6 million would be raised the first full year of the tax in 2012. “If invested in the (tourism) promotion of Seattle, according to most estimates of economists, it would mean about $30 to $33 million in economic gain,” Burgess said.
The proposed room tax, which will be considered Tuesday by the Seattle City Council Regional Development and Sustainability Committee, has the support of Mayor Mike McGinn, said Brian Surratt, the city’s business development director. If it passes through that committee, it will go before the full City Council on Sept. 26.
Cohen says they hope to have the tax in place by the beginning of November.
Surratt, who called the closure of the state tourism office devastating for destination travel to Washington, said the city was excited to see the private hotel industry step up and embrace the surcharge.
“Tourism dollars are great for economic development,” Surratt said. “It’s outside money coming here that stays here ... It’s a win-win for all. We’ve got roughly 20,000 people employed in tourism here. That’s a huge chunk of our jobs (in Seattle).”
Overall in Washington, tourism is a $15.2 billion industry that supports nearly 144,000 jobs, contributes nearly $1 billion in local and state tax revenues and ranks fourth in Gross Domestic Product produced in Washington, according to the Seattle’s Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The nightly tax would be applied to hotels around downtown Seattle, including the core shopping area, trendy Belltown, the International District and bustling South Lake Union, the new neighborhood of online retail giant Amazon.
“Tourism is a huge industry in our city and this initiative will allow us to promote Seattle both domestically and around the world,” Councilman Burgess said. “Spending $6 million to get $30 million — now that’s a great investment.”