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'See Washington Last'

The death of the state's tourism office creates opportunities for a don't-come-hither campaign. Time to reverse-market our Delicious apples as "forbidden fruit."

Cruise ships at the dock at the Port of Seattle. (Fred Felleman)

Cruise ships at the dock at the Port of Seattle. (Fred Felleman) None

Washington state has always been a natural beauty who thinks she can rely on her looks. When it comes to tourism, the come-hither look of Mt. Rainier has always worked. Who needs an ad campaign?

Here's the ultimate result of that attitude in Olympia: Our state's tourism department, always on the budget bubble, has finally been chopped entirely. Eliminated. Cut. Finito. Washington is now, according to the New York Times, the only state with no statewide tourism office and the only state that will spend no public money promoting tourism. A private group will try and pick up a little of the slack.

Eliminating the tourism promotion is a bad idea, because it's cleaner and more profitable to entice travelers to bring their wallets and dump millions here than it is to create tax-breaks to lure greedy corporations to set up shop and permanently fleece the public. Every time a cruise ship disgorges a new batch of tourists, cash registers ring. Every time we try and convince a company to move or stay here, we wind up paying more than our fair share of the B&O while they laugh through their custom-made tax loopholes.

But, what's done is done. Washington is left to coast on reputation alone. It presents an opportunity to make cider from sour apples. We need to play up our tourism outlier status. One of the best things Oregon ever did for its brand was when Gov. Tom McCall went on national television and encouraged people to visit Oregon, but also told them to please go home. What? A Western state eschewing growth? Trying to protect itself against the hordes? Instantly, the state became forbidden fruit, a Shangri-la unwilling to prostitute itself to outsiders. Ecotopia was born.

Gov. Christine Gregoire and candidates Jay Inslee and Rob McKenna should now pick up the McCall mantle. Washington can now re-brand itself by playing hard-to-get.  

Such branding nearly always has the opposite effect. Newspaper columnist Emmett Watson, the father of Lesser Seattle, understood this. He knew that nothing made Seattle seem more attractive than letting people know we didn't want to share it. He also knew that people who came anyway would convert to become the most vocal, ardent advocates of the Lesser world view. As Seattle played coy, it boosted interest and created a virtuous cycle for growth that Watson was secretly pleased to have.

Reluctance is something you can sell. Watson's Lesser movement was 20th-century Seattle's greatest marketing campaign.

Travelers and tourists today have many choices. You can fly anywhere at anytime. That was Boeing's gift to the world. But it also created stiff competition. Why visit Rainier when you haven't seen Kilimanjaro? Also, there are major new markets that are just finding their way into globetrotting, notably the Chinese, who many in the travel business hope are "the new Japanese" when it comes to tourism. Many countries are laying out the red carpet for a new generation of tourists who are just beginning to explore the world.

But if you can go anywhere anytime, where are you going to find "genuine" experiences? Places like North Korea, Bhutan, and Antarctica are growing destinations. They're isolated, mysterious, dangerous.

So can our cider-making include a new kind of isolationism that matches our state budget priorities? Send us your out-of-state students because we need their tuition money, but please don't come to see them on vacation! Concerned parents will flood in if asked to stay home.

Instead of an ad campaign, we could start putting up "keep out" signs. We could post warnings at the border: "Danger: Washington's Natural Beauty is Likely to be Harmful to Your Health." How many people die in the outdoors every year? We have killer mountain goats. Last year, a Bellevue City Council member had his eye clawed out by a bear. "Beware of Washington, It Can Put an Eye Out!" Dangerous is good.


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Comments:

Posted Fri, Jul 22, 7:58 a.m. Inappropriate

"Washington: See the Other 48 State First" is a guaranteed slam-dunk of a slogan.

Except for the fact that there's 49.

SayWA?

BlueLight

Posted Fri, Jul 22, 8:58 a.m. Inappropriate

1. Speaking of cider, we really do have some good local ones. Portland has an all-cider tavern, I hear. I'd love to see one of those around these parts.

2. How effective is tourism advertising, I wonder? Anyone have any figures? I'm wondering if the most effective form is by convention centers to convention organizers. I don't think I've ever personally gone anywhere because of an ad, but I was recently in New Orleans, tagging along with my wife to a conference she was attending. I'm sure the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau spent a few dollars convincing the Institute of Food Technologists to come for a couple of days (followed almost immediately by the Republican Leadership Conference, incidentally). New Orleans was on our list anyway, but we likely wouldn't have made it there anytime soon if not for the event.

Posted Fri, Jul 22, 9:26 a.m. Inappropriate

I hate Qantas.

chcktylr

Posted Fri, Jul 22, 10:09 a.m. Inappropriate

All too often, when the state does a cost/benefit study (which isn't all to often), the only thing examined is the costs and benefits to the state, not to the people. So, for instance, a massively expensive advertising campaign for the numbers racket... uh... lottery continues, while the tourism office is axed. But how do those decisions effect the bottom line for the taxpayers? Nobody in government seems to care.

dbreneman

Posted Fri, Jul 22, 11:29 a.m. Inappropriate

In response to Benjamin Lukoff, I've only gone a couple of places based solely on tourism advertising, but I've used tourism websites frequently to get ideas about what I might do in a particular place.

sandik

Posted Fri, Jul 22, 11:43 a.m. Inappropriate

What is stopping the tourism-based businesses from coming together to set up and fund their own advertising campaigns? Why do taxpayers have to be on the hook for it?

talisker

Posted Fri, Jul 22, 12:01 p.m. Inappropriate

talkister, taxpayers are subsidized by the taxes that tourists pay. Many even get their wages almost directly from tourists.

I like the reverse psychology angle. If it's funny and makes people stop and say "what?" (or "say wa..."!), it's can be far more memorable than the standard ad.

We're in trouble. Colorado cancelled their tourism ads several years ago, and quickly lost market share, or so it was reported. We're at the same risk.

Most at risk are the smaller places. Seattle hotels will make sure we get ours, assuming their self-tax plan goes forward. But the state has always focused on spreading the wealth, and featured places like Omak, Walla Walla, Ocean Shores, etc., even places with very little tourism. Who knows what they'll do.

mhays

Posted Fri, Jul 22, 12:23 p.m. Inappropriate

Talk about a glass half empty! Look on the bright side:

Tourism has a huge carbon footprint. By discouraging it we are - as "the only state with no statewide tourism office and the only state that will spend no public money promoting tourism" - once again, LEADING the green revolution.

Shouldn't we be happy proud?

BlueLight

Posted Fri, Jul 22, 3:20 p.m. Inappropriate

Emmett Watson's colleague, Jack Jarvis, once issued membership cards for Lesser Seattle, as he did for other fanciful organizations. Across the bottom of each was the line "Void if Signed by Jack Jarvis, Seattle". Emmett was always willing to sign them, however, (Emmett Watson, KBO). Keep the Bastards out. I had one but I lost it.

gabowker

Posted Fri, Jul 22, 3:21 p.m. Inappropriate

@sandik: I use AAA TourGuides almost exclusively for that purpose.

Posted Fri, Jul 22, 3:39 p.m. Inappropriate

@Bluelight: If you saw recently, North Dakota is not actually a state but still a territory due to an error in their constitution, so I don't count them.

Posted Fri, Jul 22, 3:45 p.m. Inappropriate

I didn't see that, Knute. Should we blue-out that star on our flags?

BlueLight

Posted Fri, Jul 22, 5:04 p.m. Inappropriate

Years ago, there was an antique dealer at the Pike Place Market who had a 49-star flag for sale, made between Alaska and Hawaii statehood. Who knew that it would be correct some day?

Posted Fri, Jul 22, 10:41 p.m. Inappropriate

Washington could be running ads this summer like "Visit cool, rainy Washington for some relief today!"

smacgry

Posted Sat, Jul 23, 4:24 p.m. Inappropriate

So Emmett Watson was a........phony?

What tangled webs we weave here. Tell people to stay away because you really want them to come. But maybe they'll see through that one, meaning we should really tell them to come, if we want them to stay away.

In any case. tourists and newcomers have never done anything for me, and I'd be happy if they stayed away. Do I tell them to come on here then?

Posted Mon, Jul 25, 9:07 a.m. Inappropriate

I'm not sure about the newcomers, but tourists have helped to support the arts via the lodging tax, as well as support my aunt, who works for a downtown hotel. Bring 'em on. We need more Lions.

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