OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) -- A bill that would allow the private sector to fund statewide tourism marketing in Washington is headed to Gov. Jay Inslee's desk.
House Bill 2229 passed unanimously in the Senate Thursday. The House passed the measure in February.
Money to support tourism marketing and promotion would come from the tourism industry in five key areas: lodging; food service; attractions and entertainment; retail; and transportation, under the measure.
In an effort to cut the budget in 2011, the Legislature did away with the state tourism office.
"We do feel there is an impact from the closure of the state tourism office," said Cheryl Kilday, CEO of Visit Spokane. "We need the state to be saying ‘come to Washington,’ and so we had to start saying ‘come to Washington’ and ‘come to Spokane.’"
Meanwhile, other states in the region spend $7-$50 million to promote tourism.
"Washington's competitors in tourism have always been spending way more than us," said Kilday. "For a good portion of the country, they think that we're way far away so it's really important for us, who are trying to get people to come to Spokane. They think it's a really long, super long flight."
Tourism is one of the state's largest industries, employing nearly 155,000 people, according to the Washington Tourism Alliance, which formed after the state tourism office closed. The group's preliminary numbers from 2012 to 2013 indicate that while tourism improved slightly in 2013, the rate of growth has slowed.
If Gov. Inslee signs the bill a state study would start on how to improve tourism in Washington. The report on the study's finding would be released at the end of year.