Whether you are a longtime Harborite or a new transplant to the region, you likely have a fierce loyalty to and love of our area. The amazing natural beauty, from the wide-open beaches to the mysterious and deep forests, coupled with the rich history of the people and industries make this our home. And, these things also draw more and more people here for their vacation.
Grays Harbor County, from the eastern border with Thurston County to the Pacific Ocean, saw significant increases during 2016 in tourism dollars flooding into the area. Money spent by visitors engaged in tourism related activities can be directly connected to increased economic vitality for the entire community.
Mike Bruner, manager of Grays Harbor Tourism, explains how when more people visit Grays Harbor, everyone wins. “The tourism industry is a huge contributor to our economic vitality. We need to all appreciate, understand and cultivate that in our community.” Not only are tourists spending dollars at local businesses and injecting dollars into the economy through purchases, but they are creating jobs. From gas stations to grocery stores to restaurants and outdoor recreation groups – Grays Harbor residents are often employed by businesses supported by tourism.
Grays Harbor Tourism’s focus is to help attract visitors. Their efforts include supporting event venues like the Grays Harbor Fair and Event Center and Grays Harbor ORV Park as well as marketing the wide variety of activities and recreation available throughout the area. “Through our marketing efforts, potential visitors from southern British Columbia to northern California and as far east as Idaho and Montana are seeing the real Grays Harbor and all it offers,” Bruner explains. “Grays Harbor is now a destination for a very diverse tourist demographic.”
How does the tourism group support this marketing? Most the revenue for tourism is generated directly from tourists themselves. “A three percent motel/hotel tax is assessed for every visitor that stays within the county (excluding Ocean Shores and Westport who collect their own taxes),” Bruner explains. “Every time someone stays in a lodging option in our area they pay that three percent tax which goes through the state coffers and into the county tourism budget.” The tourism group utilizes this income to both market the area to more tourists as well as create better facilities for big events, drawing visitors to the area. With more people visiting Grays Harbor, what does that mean for all of us?
“In 2008 the county collected $582,929 in 3% HM tax returns,” says Bruner. “In 2015 the county collected $978,778. That is a massive increase and tells us that more and more people are visiting and staying in our area.” For 2016, numbers are estimated to top one million dollars collected.
“The increase from 2008 is close to half a million dollars just generated from that three percent hotel/motel tax,” he continues. “Every $30,000 of additional money generated through this tax represents an additional one million dollars spent on overnight stays. And, that’s just on accommodations.” From 2014 – 2015, the difference in tax collected represented an increase of $1.15 million in overnight stay dollars spent in one year alone.
Grays Harbor County Commissioner Wes Cormier is also chair of the Tourism Board. Cormier says, “I give our tourism board an ‘A’ for the outstanding work it has done working with the private sector, marketing our area and supporting events in Grays Harbor.” The tourism board contributes money to special events and special marketing campaigns throughout the county and markets those events regionally and out of state. Watching tourism nearly double in Grays Harbor over the last several years is unique to Washington State.