Tourism Public Hearing Set

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The City Council will hold a public hearing on Monday, August 8 at 5:30 p.m. in Council chambers on the second floor of City Hall to receive public testimony on creation of a Seattle Tourism Improvement Area. 

Three weeks ago, I spent two days with nearly 60 other elected officials, business and nonprofit organization leaders and educators for a Seattle Study Mission, essentially a local tour to refresh our perspective of key job-creating opportunities.

We learned many lessons on our quick jaunt to Boeing’s Everett production facility (where we got to walk through a 787 Dreamliner on the production line), Microsoft’s Home of the Future in Redmond, Starbucks’ East Olive Way showcase store, the Coast Guard base on the downtown waterfront, the University of Washington, and Dale Chihuly’s Lake Union Boat House production shop.

One of the unexpected lessons for me was the importance—huge importance—of tourism to our city and region.

The tourism and hospitality industry directly supports approximately 20,000 jobs in Seattle and nearly 50,000 in King County. It is a vital segment of our local economy.

On July 12, at the Pacific Science Center, Councilmember Jean Godden and I, along with Mayor Mike McGinn and King County Executive Dow Constantine, announced a new initiative that will create another 560 of these jobs by bringing more tourists to our city.

For the past year, Councilmember Godden and I have been crafting legislation that will establish a Seattle Tourism Improvement Area (STIA) downtown. Hotels inside this special area with more than 60 rooms will add a $2 tourism promotion surcharge per occupied room per night. The City will pool the money and use it to contract with Seattle’s Convention and Visitors Bureau for marketing and promotional activities designed to draw people to vacation in Seattle.

What do the hotels think about this mandated surcharge? They asked for it! Representatives of 41 of the 53 affected hotels signed and delivered to the City Council petitions asking that the STIA be established. The room surcharge will raise an estimated $5 million to $6 million in 2012 and come from hotels in the downtown core, Lower Queen Anne, South Lake Union, Belltown, Pioneer Square, the Chinatown International District, and portions of Capitol Hill. Estimates indicate that spending $6 million in tourism marketing and promotion will in turn produce an economic impact of $34.3 million, plus $3.42 million in local and state tax revenue.

Seattle already draws good convention business (like the 15,000 Lions from around the world here three weeks ago), but the market for leisure travel is highly competitive. Many of our peer west coast cities—San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Anaheim—have dedicated funds for tourism and marketing promotion. Seattle has sights, sounds and tastes that rival those in any of these cities; now we’ll have the means to share them with a global audience.

This initiative will bring more tourists to Seattle, bolster hotel occupancy, create new jobs, increase business at restaurants and retail stores, and increase patronage at arts, cultural and music venues. The proposal has the support of the Port of Seattle, the Seattle Hotel Association, the Greater Seattle Business Association, 4Culture, the 5th Avenue Theatre, One Reel, Premier Attractions, the Washington Restaurant Association, the Washington Lodging Association and the Pike Place Market.

The creation of the STIA is especially helpful this year because the state just discontinued funding for tourism promotion, making Washington the only state not to provide funding for such purposes.

This is an excellent example of what the City government can do to strengthen our economy. By passing legislation to set up the STIA, the Council will help unlock the entrepreneurial spirit of our local hotel, restaurant, arts and cultural and retail store leaders. What a great partnership for growth.