The annual meeting and reception of the Yakima Valley Tourism Board will have a familiar face as its guest speaker.
Shiloh Burgess, executive director of the Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce and board co-chair of the Washington Tourism Alliance, will speak to Yakima Valley tourism insiders at the Yakima Convention Center on June 27 at 4 p.m.
The topic of Burgess’ speech will be “The State of Tourism in Washington State,” according to a flier mailed by the Yakima Valley Tourism Board. The board represents Benton City, Grandview, Naches, Prosser, Selah, Sunnyside, Tieton, Toppenish, Union Gap, Wapato, White Swan, Yakima and Zillah.
Stephanie Gangle, manager of membership services for Yakima Valley Tourism, said the board had chosen Burgess due to her status as co-chair of WTA.
Burgess said the state tourism industry leaders created the nonprofit after the state closed its tourism office in 2011.
Seven years after the WTA’s creation, the state tapped the WTA to re-establish a statewide tourism marketing program. Burgess will offer an overview of that program and others, Gangle said.
“Our tourism partners that will be at the meeting will want to know how everything is faring at the WTA,” Gangle said.
Washington trails its neighbors when spending money on out-of-state destination marketing, Burgess said, although the picture looks sunnier than it used to be.
In 2016-17, Oregon spent $32 million marketing the state as a vacation spot for non-residents. Idaho spent $5 million, California spent $117 million, Nevada spent $17 million, Montana spent $19 million and Canada’s British Columbia spent $50 million. Washington spent zero.
“We had no money to spend to market ourselves outside of the state,” Burgess.
Nowadays, the state has committed $1.5 million per year over two years to leverage against cash, matching funds or in-kind contributions, giving the WTA a $4.5 million annual budget.
“It’s still lower than what Idaho is, but it’s the same level the state tourism office was funded before it was closed,” Burgess said. “It’s a start.”
Over the years, Burgess said, Washington has not invited tourists to come and visit the Evergreen State.
“There’s a market share we could gain,” Burgess said, mentioning that out of a survey of non-residents in places like Arizona and Texas, only 17 percent had any idea of where Central Washington was and what it offered.
“I get really excited about that, because no press means no bad press,” Burgess said. “We get to shape the story.” The WTA will help communities tell their story in a way that fits the kind of tourist they are built to attract, Burgess said.
“We have to come alongside these communities and assess them and understand, ‘what is the right traveler for you,’” Burgess said. “And then help build those marketing programs they can plug into existing resources.’’
Tourism in the Yakima Valley itself had encountered a rough patch, with last year’s fires followed by lingering smoke and a harsh winter.
“Last summer was too hot, then air quality was really poor. Then in February we had a few weeks of bad, bad snow and ice,” Gangle said. The tourism board will keep “plugging along” with events and projects such as an expansion of the Yakima Convention Center, and try to get things back on track, she added.
This Thursday’s event is $25 per person, at the convention center, 10 N. Eighth St., in downtown Yakima. Call the tourism board at 509-575-3010 for tickets, or email email@example.com
“Hopefully they will get a better understanding of where we are today and where we are going in the next couple of years,” Burgess said. “We have a five-year contract with the state to be able to put these things together and we are just finishing year one, beginning year two.”
Lastly, an event like this helps strengthen ties between the Yakima and Wenatchee valleys and their respective leaders in the tourism industry.
“It’s always good to build those relationships,” Burgess said.