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Posted: July 07, 2011

Don’t tell them, and they won’t come

Tourism dollars really pay off

Robert Polk

Washington is now the only state in the country without any money pledged on tourism marketing. Tourism is the state's fourth largest industry. Visitors to the beautiful state spent $15.2 billion in 2010. It will be interesting to see how much tourism spending drops in the coming years.

Other states are going the other direction on tourism marketing and Washington's neighbors will continue to invest in themselves. Oregon has budgeted $10 million toward promoting tourism. California plans to spend $50 million. Michigan, which is under dire economic pressure, has increased its budget for tourism from $5 million in 2005 to $25 million this year.

Michigan estimated that for every $1 spent on marketing, the state receives $3.29 in additional tax revenue. The amount that each business in the tourism industry collects is estimated to be much more and the number of people employed has also increased.

It is that group of hotels, restaurants, stores and other businesses that are likely to feel the effects from a lack of tourism marketing. They have formed a non-profit alliance to continue the state's marketing efforts. The "Washington Tourism Alliance" is taking control of the state tourism website, fund raising, and electing a leader.

It would be a very sad day at Polk Majestic Travel if we decided to no longer invest in the marketing of our business. I have used this quote before, but I think it very much applies to Washington state. A very smart airline executive from Continental once said, "You can make a pizza so cheaply that no one will want to eat the pizza." The state of Washington needs to worry. They seemingly have decided to stop offering their pizza to the people who want pizza, which is a bad move considering those people have paid them a lot of money for pizza in the past.

I admit I am no marketing genius, but I do know that if you do not tell people you have something to sell, chances are they will not call you to place an order.

For a beautiful place like Washington, marketing should be a no-brainer. For travel agencies, though, marketing can be a tough job. Everyone knows Seattle is still there and the Puget Sound is not going anywhere anytime soon. It is no wonder, though, that many people think travel agencies are extinct-more than 50% of agencies have closed their doors in the last decade.

Polk Majestic not only stayed in business, but we are thriving. We invest heavily in people and technology. We focus on excellent service while finding new ways to save our clients time and money. It's that simple.

And, of course, we are not shy about telling our story to anyone who will listen. So, please allow me to show Washington state how it is done and toot our own horn.

For me, our story is not about what we do, but about how often and how well we do it. It is not exciting to say that we can keep looking for a better seat on your next flight or that we can help you book a family vacation. But, when you multiply that by over 500 local, national, and multi-national companies and thousands of vacation travelers and meeting attendees, we end up with a very full brag book. Some of my favorite agency stats include:

• Our proprietary technology assigns or improves over 4,100 seats per month.
• Our proprietary technology utilizes over 250 previously unused ticket credits per month.
• Our customized corporate travel web portals receive over 3 million visits per year by our business travelers.
• Last year we negotiated rates and amenities at over 800 hotel properties in more than 200 cities on behalf of business travelers.
• Last year we booked over 3,500 vacations, cruises, and tour packages and planned more than 60 off-site meetings, events, and incentive trips.

When telling people what line of business I am in, the responses I get are usually either sympathetic or surprised. I am sure this does not happen to the people of Washington state when asked where they are from. But it might if they stop telling people how beautiful it is there.
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Robert Polk is CEO of Polk Majestic Travel Group, Denver's largest independent travel agency. He welcomes your comments and invites you to subscribe to his weekly travel industry newsletter at www.polkmajestic.com.

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Robert Polk is CEO of Polk Majestic Travel Group, Denver's largest independent travel agency. He welcomes your comments and questions at Robert@polkmajestic.com.

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