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Originally published Thursday, March 31, 2011 at 1:45 PM

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New Washington tourism group steps up as state funding disappears

The Washington Tourism Alliance is gearing up to promote travel in the state as government funding is cut.

Seattle Times travel writer

Tourism promoters have a message for hotel owners, shopkeepers and small-town tourist bureaus lamenting the closure of the Washington State Tourism office.

Get over it.

"Bottom line, the governor did not include tourism in the budget. There is no funding," George Schweitzer of Red Lion Hotels told a group of about 500 gathered Thursday for a tourism-industry summit at a SeaTac hotel sponsored by the Washington Tourism Alliance.

The new trade group was organized by Seattle's and Spokane's convention and visitors bureaus, the Port of Seattle, the Washington Lodging Association and others. "After June 30," Schweitzer said, "we'll have to come up with our own solutions."

Short-term, the group is working with the state to maintain the tourism office's website and staff a call center. Longer-term, many expect some sort of a public/private partnership to evolve, with the trade group shouldering the major responsibility for raising money to support tourism promotion.

One idea is to approach the Legislature with a plan similar to that used in California and other states to raise funds for tourism promotion. Restaurants, hotels, attractions and retail businesses assess themselves fees (technically not taxes) that the states collect but can't divert to other uses. Estimates are that such a program could generate $9 million to $15 million annually in Washington.

In the meantime, the alliance is raising funds from founding and prospective members. The Port of Seattle announced a $150,000 contract with the group. Convention and visitors bureaus in Tacoma, the Tri-Cities, Snohomish County and Yakima contributed $2,500 each. Bigger organizations, such as Seattle's Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Puget Sound Attractions Council, put in $5,000 each. Company memberships will be $300. Individuals can join for $25.

Travel and tourism is a $15 billion-a-year business in Washington, generating $1 billion in tax revenues, yet the state ranks 48th among states in promotional spending.

Industry officials have been talking for the past year about new ways to increase funding beyond the $1.8 million the state spends, funding that Gov. Chris Gregoire cut from her proposed budget for 2011.

"The elimination (of state funding) wasn't entirely unexpected," Katherine Kertzman, of Seattle Southside Tourism, told the group. "It just came sooner than expected."

Carol Pucci:

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