Lodging tax revenue could help promote Birch Bay

Published on Wed, Apr 4, 2012 by Jeremy Schwartz

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The money is there, and all the business owners in Birch Bay need is a plan.

That was the message Mt. Baker Foothills Chamber of Commerce (MBFCC) president Carole MacDonald sought to convey to Birch Bay business owners and residents at a meeting at the Birch Bay Waterslides the evening of March 29. About 22 people showed up to the meeting eager to hear ways to promote tourism in Birch Bay in the fall through early spring months.

“I think it’s amazing, and I don’t think it’s been done before,” said Birch Bay Waterslides general manager Iain Buchanan in reference to an advertising campaign designed to promote Birch Bay in the off season.

The money comes from a special 2 percent lodging tax collected from motels, hotels and other short-term accommodations throughout the county. Incorporated cities collect it within their city limits, while counties collect it from their unincorporated areas, such as Birch Bay and the Mt. Baker foothills area.

Last December, the Whatcom County Council approved $153,000 for the MBFCC to spend on off-season promotions for the foothills and Birch Bay area in 2012. The MBFCC has developed a promotional plan for their area for the spring and summer months, and now it’s up to Birch Bay business owners to come up with one for their community, MacDonald said.

MacDonald said the point of the meeting was to tell Birch Bay’s business owners about the available funds. The MBFCC is managing the funds and will help a committee of Birch Bay business owners and managers spend the money on off-season promotions. MacDonald said any business in Birch Bay can offer input on how to spend the funds, not just businesses associated with the Birch Bay Chamber of Commerce.

“We want your ideas; we’ve got the money,” MacDonald said.

The Mt. Baker Foothills Chamber has spent some of the money promoting the Mt. Baker area on bus ads in Seattle, Vancouver and Abbotsford. Within 10 days of the ads’ introduction on March 19, MacDonald said two businesses in the foothills area saw increases in business of at least 100 percent.

The money can only be used to promote tourism and cannot pay for the creation of an event aimed at drawing people to Birch Bay or the foothills area, MacDonald explained. The funds could, however, be used to promote such an event if it already existed or was organized independently.

MacDonald explained that the county does not just write the chamber a check for $153,000. The chamber must spend the money first and send the bill to the county. The county will then reimburse the chamber within 30 days.

“You have to be an organization with well-established cash flow to get this going,” MacDonald said.

Birch Bay steering committee co-chair Kathy Berg said the next step for Birch Bay businesses would be to organize an ad campaign for fall and winter in Birch Bay. Berg plans to meet with a handful of Birch Bay business owners in April to determine how best to proceed later in the year.

“[The committee] will work out how we need to go forward and take that framework to the community, “ Berg said. “We will continue to do this in a public forum.”

For more information on the funding, contact Rebecca Boonstra, Mt. Baker Foothills Visitors Center coordinator, at 360-599-1518 or info@mtbakerchamber.com.