Advisory committee supports long-time contractor OCTC
By Marcy Stamper
The Okanogan County commissioners and a committee that oversees tourism promotions recently heard two proposals for marketing the county as a travel destination: from the Okanogan County Tourism Council (OCTC), which has been promoting tourism for the county for 27 years, and from the Borderlands Historical Society, which operates the visitor information center and railroad museum in Oroville.
The Oct. 28 presentations to the county’s Lodging Tax Advisory Committee (LTAC) came in response to a solicitation in early October by the county commissioners for nonprofit organizations interested in marketing the county to tourists. LTAC makes recommendations to the commissioners on tourism promotions and the commissioners make the final decision.
OCTC has been promoting the county through TV, radio and print ads; a brochure and maps for the county and individual areas; and more recently, the “Okanogan Country: Open for Adventure!” website and social media, said Jenn Tate in her overview of their marketing campaign. Tate is owner of Earth & Sky Studios, which has been under contract with OCTC for tourism marketing since 2001.
In addition to promoting the county as a whole, the advertising campaign promotes four distinctive regions — North Okanogan County (Oroville, Tonasket and environs), Central Okanogan (Okanogan, Omak and Conconully), Methow Valley, and Columbia River (Coulee Dam, Brewster and Pateros), said Tate.
Kay Sibley, executive director of the Borderlands society, presented a proposal for a new approach to marketing the county using a “Take to the Road: Discover Okanogan County” theme to emphasize opportunities in all areas of the county. Sibley said the new slogan would minimize confusion with the Okanagan region in British Columbia.
OCTC builds on “pillars of tourism,” such as the cross-country ski trails in the Methow, Grand Coulee Dam, and the Omak Stampede, then highlights local attractions and activities visitors would enjoy while they’re here, said Tate.
OCTC advertises individual regions in different seasons, said Tate. For example, while they advertise the Methow ski trails in the winter, they don’t focus on the Methow during the summer because lodging is already at capacity.
Borderlands would rebrand the county to attract more tourists from British Columbia. Being friendly and welcoming so that tourists have a satisfying visit is more important in building a strong tourist economy than the cost of accommodations and activities, said Sibley. “The best promoter is a person who had a good time here,” she said.
The county should make better use of targeted marketing to birders and butterfly enthusiasts, stress scenic trails in the county, and promote hundreds of places for bouldering, said Sibley.
Sibley wants staff people at visitor information centers to be better informed so they can publicize small events in the county. She’d like to update the centers with connections to online sources of information.
In the letter accompanying their written proposal, the Borderlands society said that the North County has felt underserved by current marketing efforts. Images used in advertising focus too heavily on the Methow Valley, they said.
OCTC’s proposed budget is $200,000, with $20,000 allocations each for strategic planning, advertising campaigns, and creative production and $50,000 to place advertisements. OCTC is run by a 13-member board with two representatives from each of the four tourism regions, four at-large members, and one from the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.
Borderlands’ proposed budget is $173, 000, including a $50,000 salary for an executive director.
After the presentations, LTAC met privately with the county commissioners and recommended continuing with OCTC, said Don Linnertz, executive director of TwispWorks and one of two LTAC representatives from the Methow Valley.
The commissioners will contact OCTC about requirements in their request for proposals that had not been addressed, said Linnertz.
Because tourism promotion is a service provided to the county, the commissioners said it is important to open up the contract for bids on a regular basis, said Linnertz. “Overall, it was a great process and good to hear from everyone,” he said.
After the public meeting, LTAC reviewed requests for grants from nonprofits around the county to promote tourism and overnight stays. This year, groups were able to submit applications in four areas — to fund capital projects, tourism events, visitor information centers, and year-round support, said Linnertz.
After the commissioners approve them, LTAC will send announcements of the awards to 27 recipients. LTAC recommended funding all groups who submitted complete applications on time, said Linnertz.
LTAC distributes money from two separate 2-percent taxes collected on lodging. About $30,000 goes to pay off the construction bond on the Agri-Plex. The rest is allocated to nonprofits, including the group that handles overall marketing for the county, according to Kathleen Descoteaux, the LTAC secretary. The budget for 2017 is $483,000.