Ex-chamber chief now works to boost state tourism

SEATTLE — Louise Stanton-Masten is exactly where she wants to be.

As the executive director of the Washington Tourism Alliance, she is busily working to develop, advocate for and promote the tourism industry in the state.

“I have such a passion and such a vision for where we’re going to go as an organization and I just feel really privileged to be part of it,” she said. I think also it’s very exciting because we have demonstrated success.”

Stanton-Masten, who lives in Lynnwood, was appointed to her role in November. She was the president of the Everett Area Chamber of Commerce from 2001 to 2011 and served as business development director for Economic Alliance Snohomish County from September 2011 to January 2012. She is currently on the Future of Flight Foundation board of directors and is part of the board and plays the cello in the Mukilteo Community Orchestra.

“What appealed to me about this was the opportunity to come into a role at a critical time in the development of the organization,” she said. “It really means a lot to me to see where the organization has come from prior to my coming on board for me to have a vision of where we’re going and seeing where we can be in a year or two from now.”

Stanton-Masten is the second executive director of the Washington Tourism Alliance, following Suzanne Fletcher, who stepped down in October 2012. The nonprofit, membership-driven organization was formed by industry stakeholders in March 2011 before Washington state’s tourism office closed that June. It is now the state’s official tourism marketing organization.

In terms of visitor spending, tourism is a $16.9 billion industry in the state. That makes it the fourth-largest industry in the state, behind agriculture, software and aerospace, Stanton-Masten said. It also sustains more than 153,300 jobs and generates $1.1 billion in state and local tax revenue. Yet Washington is the only state in the country that doesn’t have a state tourism budget, she said.

In a role that causes her to travel frequently outside of her Seattle office, Stanton-Masten is guiding the Washington Tourism Alliance as it moves toward building a long-term, sustainable funding source for tourism marketing and promotion of the state. This involves continuing to develop a website, creating visitor guides and mobile applications, and growing from a budget of about $481,000 to $7.5 million. The 2012-13 tourism budgets of Oregon and Montana are $12 million, California’s is $50 million and Alaska’s is $17 million. Other budgets range from Idaho and New Mexico at $7 million to Colorado and Nevada at $15 million, Stanton-Masten said.

A long-term funding assessment model is currently being worked on so it can be brought to the Legislature in January, Stanton-Masten said. Such legislation would allow the industry to self-assess itself in order to contribute into a fund that would then be used to market the state.

“So a lot of what we are doing is outreach to our members, to our partners in the industry to talk about what that long-term assessment model looks like, what it would mean to them as business, and more importantly, what it will mean to the state to have adequately funded tourism marketing and promotion,” Stanton-Masten said.

The organization, which now has more than 400 members, was successful during the last legislative session in securing $1 million in short-term bridge funds. A total of $500,000 in the next two years is allocated for funding the www.experiencewa.com website, postage for mailing the Washington State Visitors’ Guide, operation of a tourism call center, tourism research and international marketing. The funds require a one-for-one match from Washington Tourism Alliance in either cash or in-kind services.

Securing the short-term bridge funding is a good step for the organization, said Jane Kilburn, director of tourism development and senior communications counsel at the Port of Seattle. She first met Stanton-Masten while also serving on the Future of Flight Foundation board of directors. Kilburn serves as secretary of the Washington Tourism Alliance board of directors and is happy Stanton-Masten is leading the organization.

“Louise has a really good understanding of the political process in the state and how to work within it,” Kilburn said. “She also knows how to run an organization so I think it’s a really good match.”

Stanton-Masten is a great addition to the Washington Tourism Alliance, agreed Kevin Clark, board chairman and chief executive officer and president at Argosy Cruises, Royal Argosy and Tillicum Village. Her skills are helpful as regional meetings continue and a long-term funding assessment model is created.

“The model is being in a sense vetted through regional meetings now through the fall,” he said. “That’s where Louise and her skills and guidance as a speaker as well as facilitating are needed.”

It’s an exciting time for her to be in her position, said Stanton-Masten. The organization is comprised of hard-working, knowledgeable volunteers and although still dependent on members maintaining their membership for support, it’s building momentum and will evolve, she added.

“At the end of the day I want to bring people to Washington state because it’s amazingly beautiful and we are showcasing it to the world but it also means jobs, it means economic development,” Stanton-Masten said.

“That’s why I think in many ways the closure of the state tourism office sent a very questionable message which the Washington Tourism Alliance now has answered and has answered really strongly.”

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