Whether you are a long-time 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 Straddleline 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.
The direct tax dollars support the tourism group, bringing in more tourists. But, Grays Harbor Tourism’s efforts bring in an exponential amount of income to businesses throughout the area. Tourists don’t simply sleep here, they purchase food, souvenirs and fuel for vehicles and boats. They buy tickets for special events and spend on entertainment. They charter fishing boats and purchase clamming gear. They grab lattes and extra rubber boots. The impact of visitors has a positive ripple effect throughout the community.
One obvious area where tourism has seen a tremendous jump is in the community of Seabrook. With national attention shining on this expanding community, visitors are anxious to see what all the hubbub is about. The taxes paid by each renter at Seabrook are a significant portion of the increases seen over the past several years. And it’s those same Seabrook visitors who are passing through Aberdeen and Hoquiam to stock up on supplies or swinging into the Copalis Grocery to grab a bottle of wine and s’mores supplies.
“By attracting visitors to Grays Harbor, we hope they seek out your businesses,” shares Bruner. “Our hope is that the people who visit because of our efforts will spend their dollars while they are here, resulting in more sales tax paid. This goes into the general fund to support all kinds of infrastructure throughout the county. The idea is that we are able to increase our local economy and job market through tourism.”
How can you help? By being welcoming ambassadors for our area. Grays Harbor has some of the most unique natural tourism sites in the area. The ocean beaches and incredible hiking, one of only two temperate rainforests in the nation, historic Lake Quinault, the exclusive habitat of the razor clam and some of the best sport fishing on the west coast are all reasons people come to Grays Harbor. And, as residents, they are often things we take for granted as “normal”.
By appreciating, and celebrating, these natural wonders and sharing our experiences and recommendations with visitors, we help showcase Grays Harbor to those who are visiting.
Share your favorite restaurant when you meet a tourist in the line at the grocery store. With incredible eateries throughout the area and some of the freshest seafood around, tourists are now coming simply for the cuisine. Give a visitor a tip on the best beachcombing spot after a storm or a hidden spot to surf. Offer directions to a trailhead and advice on what to take on a hike, helping make a tourist’s day successful instead of stressful.
The numbers tell the story. More and more people are coming to Grays Harbor county for their vacations. By being welcoming to tourists we will encourage their return and foster a positive impression of the community. “If we can do that,” says Bruner, “we will continue to grow the industry and increase the benefit to our economy and job market and ultimately, to all residents.”