Money secured to push Thurston County tourism

Several county groups band together to deploy funds for promotion

rboone@theolympian.comMay 6, 2014 

The 200 people who attended the Olympia Lacey Tumwater Visitor and Convention Bureau annual meeting luncheon Monday walked away with this message: More money is on the way to promote Thurston County.

The idea of raising more money to market and promote the county, which started as an idea in 2000, has come true with the creation of the tourism promotion area, or TPA. The TPA is a joint effort by the VCB, the Thurston County Lodging Association and its hotel partners, Thurston County and its four largest jurisdictions, and a seven-member TPA commission.

The result is a $2 per-room, per-night assessment charged to guests who stay at hotels and motels in the county.

The assessment took effect in April, Thurston County Lodging Association President Dennis Williams announced to the audience Monday, which should generate north of $700,000 to promote the county as a destination through the VCB.

That money is expected to become available in July, he said.

And it’s needed, Williams said, because although hotels here do well certain times of the year — in summer and during the legislative session — average occupancy levels last year stood at about 64 percent. Still, that’s up from the early days of the recession in 2007-08 when average occupancy levels were in the 50 percent to 54 percent range, he said.

Guests gathered at the Red Lion Hotel Olympia for the annual meeting, but rather than have them remain seated for a served lunch or have guests line up at a buffet table, guests could pick and choose from several area restaurants and caterers that were invited to prepare food.

In keeping with tradition, several awards also were announced Monday.

Here are the winners:

Economic impact award: Saint Martin’s University.

Tourism Partner of the Year: Thurston County Ag-tourism Committee, Thurston Bountiful Byway.

Tourism Advocate of the Year: Dennis Williams.

VCB Volunteer of the Year: Frank Green.

Attraction of the Year: The Washington Center for the Performing Arts.

In accepting the economic impact award, Saint Martin’s University President Roy Heynderickx pointed out that it’s commencement this week at the school, a time when families from the U.S. and abroad come and stay in the area to see their children graduate.

The school has students from Japan, China, South Korea and 15 from Brazil, he said, and that relationship with students from Brazil is expected to grow.

Thurston County Economic Development Council Executive Director Michael Cade was the keynote speaker for the luncheon, talking about the importance of tourism to the local economy, while VCB Executive Director George Sharp gave an update on the organization’s strategic plan.

An award also could have gone to singer Gayla Duerr, who had the challenging task of singing the national anthem while she faced 200 people.

But Duerr pulled it off, singing an understated but pitch-perfect rendition to the crowd.

Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403 rboone@theolympian.com

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