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SubjectsEconomic Development › Tourism Industry and Local Governments
Updated 11/2013

Tourism Industry and Local Governments



Tourism is an important industry in Washington state. It is both a fast-growing industry nationwide and Washington's fourth largest industry. This is reflected in the increasing dollars generated for the economy and the heightened interest local communities have in developing a tourist industry. Some general observations about the characteristics of tourism in Washington counties are presented in Dean Runyan Associates' Washington State, Regional and County Travel Impacts.

This page addresses local planning for tourism, tourism programs of Washington local governments, and mechanisms to finance tourism activities.

Planning for Tourism

Tourism planning requires strong local support. Communities must be willing to cater to tourists and provide settings and experiences that are attractive to the traveling public. The community should have amenities, attractions, and/or destinations around which to build a tourism strategy. Tourism expert Roger Brooks emphasized the importance of catering to visitors in his remarks at a planning conference:

  • Quality is more important than money - but visitors still expect value
  • Convenience is mandatory
  • Curb appeal is critical: it can be a primary drawing card ... or a detractor
  • Quality: accommodations, dining, shopping, attractions
  • Pedestrian-oriented activities
  • Things to see and do: are they convenient?
  • Available visitor services

Tourism - Marketing Plans

General Tourism References

Several of the links below address tourism in Washington State.

Economic Impact of Tourism

This section includes articles and studies that address the economic impacts of various types of tourist activities.

Economic Impact of Cultural Tourism

One of the primary benefits of cultural and heritage tourism is the economic impact on a community. While this is difficult to measure, it can be an important element of a local economic development strategy.

Economic Impact of Sports Tourism

  • The Economic Impact of Sports Facilities, by Robby Robertson, The Sport Digest, Vol. 17, No. 1, Winter 2009 - Dscusses the basic aspects of sports facility planning and the arguments for and against the construction of new sports facilities
  • GOLF 20/20 Economic Impact Reports - Golf 20/20 is an initiative of the World Golf Foundation, a nonprofit organization of the golf industry that supports programs to promote and enhance growth of the game of golf worldwide. See Washington State Report (), 2007


Local Tourism Programs

The following are a few examples of tourism program information from Washington cities and counties:

Tourism Advisory Committees

A few cities have created committees to advise on tourism, while others include this function within the focus of an Economic Development Committee.

Financing Tourism

Hotel-Motel (Lodging) Tax

The hotel-motel tax or lodging tax is the primary source of funds for tourism promotion.

Lodging Tax Advisory Committees

If a city with a population over 5,000 wishes to impose a new hotel-motel tax, raise the rate of an existing tax, repeal an exemption from the hotel-motel tax, or change the use of the tax proceeds, it must form a lodging tax advisory committee (see RCW 67.28.1817). Applicants for lodging tax funding from a city or county with a population of 5,000 or more must submit their applications to the city or county lodging tax advisory committee. Some cities designate the "tourism advisory committee" as the lodging tax advisory committee or include planning among the duties of the lodging tax advisory committee. Examples are listed below:

Tourism Promotion Areas

A Tourism Promotion Area (TPA) may be established by counties and cities within the county for the purpose of imposing a special assessment on lodging businesses to fund convention and tourism promotion (see Ch. 35.101 RCW - Tourism Promotion Areas). Interlocal agreements are required with each city and community in the proposed TPA

  • Pierce County Tourism Promotion Area
    • Pierce County Resolution No. 2009-32 (Adobe Acrobat Document), 05/2009 - Notice of Intent to Establish a Tourist Promotion Area - Tacoma, DuPont, Fife, Gig Harbor, Lakewood, Puyallup, Sumner, and unincorporated areas of Pierce County
    • Pierce County Resolution No. R2009-119 () – Resolution authorizing the Piece County Executive to enter into an ILA with Tacoma, DuPont, Fife, Gig Harbor, Lakewood, Puyallup, Sumner for the establishment of a Pierce County Tourism Promotion Area
  • Spokane County Tourism Promotion Area
  • Tri-Cities Tourism Promotion Area - Richland, Kennewick, and Pasco
    • Richland Municipal Code Ch. 5.36 - Special Lodging Assessment
  • Union Gap
    • Union Gap Ordinance No. 2707 (Adobe Acrobat Document) - Establishes Union Gap Tourism Promotion Area, passed 02/28/2011
    • Union Gap Tourism Promotion Area Management Agreement () - Contract to manage operational and administrative activities for the Union Gap Tourism Promotion Area (UGTPA); term is December 1, 2011 until terminated
  • Wenatchee Resolution No. 2010-43 () - Establishes a tourism marketing area, passed 09/15/2006
  • Yakima County Tourism Promotion Area - Yakima, the Selah, Union Gap, and the unincorporated area of Yakima County
    • Yakima Municipal Code Ch. 5.99 - Tourist Promotion Area

Cultural and Heritage Tourism

History and culture provide a key opportunity for tourism-related economic development promoters and planners. The educational experience from heritage tourism can be partnered with other tourist attractions. This section provides resources for local governments to use in developing cultural and heritage tourism. It includes local examples of cultural events, tours, and communities that have capitalized on their historic heritage.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s (NTHP) definition of cultural heritage tourism is “traveling to experience the places and activities that authentically represent the stories and people of the past and present. It includes irreplaceable historic, cultural and natural resources." The NTHP identified five principles to guide the combining of heritage and tourism: collaborate; find the fit between a community or region and tourism; make sites and programs come alive; focus on authenticity and quality of experience; and preserve and protect resources. See NTHP Cultural Heritage 2011 Fact Sheet (Adobe Acrobat Document).

Information Resources on Cultural and Heritage Tourism

The following resources provide useful background and guidance on cultural and heritage tourism.

  • Cultural Heritage Tourism, Heritage Tourism Program, National Trust for Historic Preservation - A great starting point for information on this topic. A resource for organizations and individuals who are developing, marketing or managing cultural heritage tourism attractions or programs
  • Cultural & Heritage Tourism Alliance - A group of tourism marketing professionals who share the vision and challenge of increasing tourism to communities through the promotion of authentic and unique cultural and heritage offerings
  • Cultural Tourism Resources, National Assembly of State Arts Agencies - State arts agency efforts in cultural tourism
  • The Community Cultural Planning Handbook: A Guide for Community Leaders, by Craig Dreeszen, in National Endowment for the Arts - The most inclusive cultural plan embraces the activities of mainstream urban and regional planning efforts, applying the arts and culture to tourism, urban design, downtown revitalization and economic and community development.

Examples of Cultural and Heritage Tourism

The following are a few examples of cultural and heritage tourism promotional materials and activities from communities around Washington State. Some of these are sponsored by chambers of commerce and other local organizations.


Environmental tourism, ecotourism, or nature tourism provides an opportunity to visit undisturbed natural areas, scenic vistas, and to observe plants and wildlife. Washington state offers many opportunities for local governments to promote their natural environments to visitors. While maximizing the economic, environmental, and social benefits from ecotourism, the local environment must be protected. This section provides links to information on how to create and promote a nature tourism destination.

Examples of Sites that Combine Nature and Marketing

The following are selected sites that promote ecotourism in Washington communities:

Information Resources on Nature Tourism

This section includes general information on creating and promoting nature tourism.

  • Tool Kits and Agritourism/Nature Tourism Planning Guides, Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, U.S. Department of Agriculture - Links to many useful nature tourism planning guides
  • Discover Your Northwest - Dedicated to increasing public appreciation of the rich cultural history and spectacular natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest; includes educational materials for the visiting public
  • About Geotourism, National Geographic Center for Sustainable Destinations - Defines geotourism and addresses sustainability

Sports and Recreation Tourism

This section includes information on sports and recreation tourism. Sports tourism can be an important part of a community's economic development program.

There are many organizations that support the development of sports facilities and local events and encourage activities that will attract tourists and spur economic development.

Need more information?

Feel free to Ask MRSC. Washington cities, counties, and our contract partners can call or email MRSC for more information and advice - free of charge.