In 2011, the state Legislature closed the Washington State Tourism Office, making Washington the only state in the nation without a state-funded tourism office. For seven years the Washington Tourism Alliance (WTA), a membership-funded nonprofit organization, worked to reestablish a statewide tourism effort, and their advocacy eventually paid off, in 2018, when Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law legislation that will support destination tourism marketing efforts for the state.
Recently, Twisp resident and local marketing guru Jennifer Tate has been hired as a temporary consultant to the WTA and will focus on bringing visitors to rural tourism-dependent areas throughout the state.
Tourism is Washington state’s fourth-largest economic sector and provides, as the 2018 legislation notes, “general economic benefit to the state.” Many communities, especially in rural areas, rely heavily on tourism for their vitality. But without a central, state-funded marketing effort, potential visitors to Washington from outside the state learn of little beyond the Space Needle and the Seahawks, and for the past decade have been choosing to visit other Pacific Northwest locations instead.
“Washington has been losing market-share for years,” says Tate. “Our mandate at the WTA is to develop a brand and a plan that will draw people from out of state to visit Washington.”
Tate, a 1992 Liberty Bell graduate, has extensive marketing experience. The owner of Earth & Sky Studio (a website development, graphic design, and marketing firm in Twisp) and Cevado Technologies in Chelan (a real estate website development business) Tate calls herself a mutt. “I was an anthropology major!” she says. “But my career has been in marketing, developing brands, and increasing brand awareness.” Tate told WTA leaders that she didn’t come with a pedigree, and they responded with a unanimous vote of confidence. “I think they wanted the grit and character of Eastern Washington,” Tate says.
Jamie Petitto, the marketing director for the Twisp Chamber of Commerce, calls WTA’s hiring of Tate “huge,” because Eastern Washington hasn’t always been well-represented in statewide efforts. “It doesn’t get much bigger than this,” Petitto says. “Not just for Eastern Washington to have a seat at the state tourism table, but also for the direct representation of Okanogan County and the Methow Valley.”
Spreading the word
Tate is on fire to spread the word about the many treasures to be discovered in the state she grew up in, the state she is raising her two daughters in, the state she loves. There are so many angles to appeal to potential visitors, she says, and the message has to be that Washington is not just Seattle. “Washington is great for van life and van culture,” Tate says. “We can get people here and get them out exploring. Or we can market tourism opportunities that combine adventures with indulgences. You can go hiking or skiing, or spend time on a river or a lake, and then go out for excellent food and wine.”
Tate says that most of her marketing work, such as with the Okanogan County Tourism Council, has been done on a shoestring budget. Working with a larger budget with a broader reach through the WTA, says Tate, will be very exciting, although she acknowledges that the WTA’s budget is still quite small compared with tourism marketing in other states. But, she says, “If we can do it with Okanogan County, we can do it at the state level.”
In her discretionary time, Tate paints and frequently shows pieces in gallery exhibits. Her art will have to go on the back burner for now though, she says, while she focuses on “meticulously and scrupulously” developing effective marketing strategies to bring visitors into Washington. But she’s committed to keeping her hand in arts and creativity, and intends to maintain the cello practice she began recently, part of what she calls “my five-year plan to learn the cello.”
Tate doesn’t mind the prospect of all the time and work ahead of her, though, she says. “I’m having so much fun; it’s mentally a delightful challenge,” she says. “It feels like play.”