Whatcom County Council voted to fund the Baker Birch Bay Tourism Promotion campaign through 2016 at a March 26 meeting between the Council Finance and Administrative Services Committee (CFASC) and representatives of the Baker Birch Bay promotion group.
The group applied last November for renewed funding, but a series of roadblocks prevented a council decision until recently.
“I feel relieved that we got the funding,” said Kathy Berg, a member of the Baker Birch Bay promotion group. “It was a long road, but it worked out for the better because they extended funding of the promotion from three years to four.”
The Lodging Tax Advisory Committee (LTAC) recommended reducing funding for year two, but extending the contract to four years. Officially, the recommendation was to allot $72,000 for the second year of the promotion (2013), and $58,333 for the following three years (2014-16). The CFASC voted unanimously to recommend approval of the contract, and it was unanimously approved at the county council meeting later that day.
The Baker Birch Bay Tourism Promotion project began in November 2011, when the county approved funds to mount a Baker Birch Bay tourism marketing campaign in Seattle, Vancouver and online through 2012.
The campaign included bus ads, a television commercial and a website promoting attractions in Birch Bay and the Mt. Baker foothills – two unique areas of unincorporated Whatcom County with opposing peak tourism seasons. The lodging committee recommended and county council approved a three-year promotion contract, with funding for years two and three contingent upon review of tangible results from the first year’s campaign.
Funding for the promotion in 2013 was on track in December 2012 when the Baker Birch Bay group submitted an amendment to their funding application that would broaden the scope of their promotion to areas such as Point Roberts and Lummi Island. The amendment caused council members to question whether the inclusion of other areas diluted the original intent of the promotion and/or created a redundant marketing campaign due to Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism’s (BWCT) separate promotion of those areas. Council member Ken Mann expressed his desire for the Baker Birch Bay Tourism group to collaborate with BWCT on the project. However, the group dropped its request to expand its purview.
At a February 26 council meeting, Alex Nephew, who represents Hampton Inn and Suites and sits on the LTAC said the committee was hesitant to fund the promotion without proof that it was working.
The original contract required the Baker Birch Bay promotion to show measurable results of their marketing campaign, and the LTAC was unsure that the Baker Birch Bay promotion group was adequately meeting that requirement, Nephew said.
The following month, the LTAC reviewed the promotion’s annual report and proposed business plan, and made revisions to their recommendations.
LTAC again requested that tracking methods be used to quantify the promotion, recognizing that this is difficult to do in the first year of a promotion but emphasizing that it is critical for future funding opportunities.
Council member Pete Kremen spelled out the disparity between revenue generators in unincorporated versus incorporated areas of Whatcom County. “Eco-tourism and all the great opportunities in the outlying, unincorporated areas of Whatcom County have a lot to offer, yet an unintended consequence of the growth management act is that we’re seeing all the big revenue generators for the lodging tax move to incorporated areas,” he said.
Hampton Inn is the the largest revenue generator for lodging tax in unicorporated Whatcom County, but will soon be annexed into the city of Bellingham.
“It’s not a question of ‘if’,” Kremen said, “It’s ‘when’.’’
Kremen said he saw this project as a way to compensate for a future lack of adequate promotional funding in the outlying areas of Whatcom County.
“I think moving forward with this, and maybe with some other initiatives that would help promote Lummi Island, Point Roberts and other unincorporated areas of Whatcom County would be in the county’s best interest,” he said.