The Ocean Shores Lodging Tax Advisory Committee (LTAC) has voted in favor of a proposal to give $10,000 for a developing effort by Greater Grays Harbor Inc. to launch a regional tourism website.
The committee, which oversees revenues from hotel/motel taxes and Convention Center operations, however, withheld any decision at its Oct. 31 meeting on whether to continue to fund an advertising program backed by a consortium of businesses known as the Ocean Shores Marketing C0-Op.
Hotel/motel tax revenue is expected to remain flat at this year’s level of about $980,000, which is the same amount budgeted for 2018.
The committee was told by Ocean Shores Finance Director Angela Folkers that it had less than $75,000 to disperse after paying for budgeted and recommended expenses associated with the Convention Center, its annual debt payment, repayment of interfund loans and operations expenses (a $905,593 total estimated by the city).
This year, there were only three applications for the funds in an annual process required to disperse the revenue, which ultimately also requires City Council approval, with the council able to change LTAC recommendations.
One of the requests was from the city, which manages, operates and is responsible for the debt of the facility. The other two were from the Marketing Co-Op and Greater Grays Harbor Inc. (GGHI), which is based in Aberdeen and promotes economic development Harbor-wide.
GGHI director Dru Garson said there is a need for a new website to bolster efforts to attract tourists while also allowing local businesses better marketing opportunities online.
The new website will be called discovergrayshabor.com.
“On this website, we have categories for campgrounds, resorts, hotels, motels, fishing, hunting, biking, hiking, retail shopping,” Garson said. “There is where to go for adventure on the water, history and museums, the rain forest, and family fun. So we are trying to appeal to a whole wide variety of people who are coming to the area.”
Also included will be a county-wide business directory, and a pilot project to try to incorporate online shopping possibilities where local products may be purchased.
“There are a lot of things we want to do with this particular website,” Garson said.
He noted that Greater Grays Harbor also operates a Visitor Information Center funded partly by Grays Harbor County lodging tax funds and the other half from Aberdeen lodging tax revenue.
“We promote everything in the area, especially to people who are coming out to Ocean Shores, to all the beaches and the (Olympic) national park,” Garson noted. “This past year, I have been trying to organize some meetings to be able to say, ‘Why can’t we all work together — Westport, Ocean Shores, and Grays Harbor County. Let’s all work together in promoting the area and getting more people to the area.”
Garson noted the funds requested from Ocean Shores would be used to market and promote the new website.
Committee members wanted to know if Westport also had been approached with a similar request, and Garson said the intent was to seek a similar amount from Westport lodging tax funds.
“It makes absolute perfect sense to market the whole area,” said LTAC member Kathy Harris of Associated Arts of Ocean Shores.
Garson said the website developer has a plan to target the Seattle metro area with a branding concept to promote the site. Also, the city or other local businesses can participate further with individual promotions, he added.
It is planned to be up and running by the end of the week, Garson said.
While the committee agreed to the Greater Grays Harbor request, it wanted more information and more time to review the request from the Marketing Co-Op, which received city funds during each of the past four years. The first year, the Co-Op received $20,000, then $40,000 in the second year and $60,000 the past two years.
Co-Op spokesman Mark Plackett noted the past funding has been used to market Ocean Shores around the “More than a Beach” theme in Seattle-area bus panel campaigns, radio, magazine and other print publications.
“Basically, our charge is to bring people to Ocean Shores,” Plackett said, noting that the campaign has been based on ‘“strategic partnerships.” For example, the bus panel project was sponsored by a group of seven hotels.
This year, however, the group has changed its focus “because people tell us we need to have a bit more of a handle on what kind of results” the effort accomplishes, Plackett said.
That’s why the focus is on magazines, contests, and efforts to bolster a digital presence with the hiring of a social media expert, he explained. The group also has a web page, visitoceanshoreswa.com.
“We opened up a Twitter account, we opened up an Instagram account and we opened a Facebook account, and we are doing regular postings every month on that,” Plackett said. The sites include links to stories the Co-Ops social media staff member has produced, Plackett noted.
For the city, Folkers noted the Convention Center center debt payments can’t be changed and the city was obligated to a $272,575 debt payment from the funds, along with the repayments of two prior interfund loans. Based on the 2018 proposed city budget, the Convention Center operations budget is $552,000.
Folkers noted that in the Convention Center budget this year is the hiring of a full-time marketing director in the fourth quarter of the year.
“I think the marketing piece is the piece that is missing,” she said of the need for the position to improve Convention Center business. “We need to start working on that and actually pulling people out to the Convention Center and having someone dedicated to actually doing that job.”
The city also is requesting $40,000 to be put into a repairs and maintenance reserve for the Convention Center, $7,200 for the annual “Here and Now” city marketing profile publication and $6,200 for a billboard promoting Ocean Shores.
The Lodging Tax Committee agreed to meet again on Nov. 7. The committee’s recommendations then go to the City Council as part of the continuing process to adopt a 2018 budget.