Rediscover the hidden treasures found here at home


Have you ever reached into the pocket of a coat you haven’t worn for a while and discovered a forgotten 20-dollar bill? That’s a great moment, worthy of at least a small internal celebration.

Now imagine how you would feel to find a hundred dollars or more in that same pocket. I suspect that would not only put a smile on your face, but maybe even incite a little happy dance around the room. After all, finding a substantial amount of money unexpectedly would be very exciting!

Well, put on your dancing shoes, because a group of anonymous benefactors did indeed put nearly a thousand dollars in your pocket last year. Actually, the benefactors aren’t completely anonymous — we can often identify them, we just don’t always know their names. They are the traveling public — tourists — and last year alone they supplemented the income of every United States household to the tune of $956.

According to the Travel Industry Association, travel and tourism generated $105 billion in tax revenues for local, state and federal governments in 2006. Without the tax revenues generated by this vital industry sector, each U.S. household would have paid nearly a thousand dollars more in taxes last year.

In addition to the tax revenues, travel and tourism is the nation’s largest services export industry and one of America’s largest employers. Tourism is responsible for 7.5 million direct travel-generated jobs and a $171 billion direct travel-generated payroll throughout the U.S. In 2006, visitors to Washington state spent a record $13.9 billion, generating $912 million in state and local taxes. Travel and tourism generated 146,500 jobs, which accounts for $4 billion in earnings.

How does that translate into our local economy? Travel and tourism is one of our larger and most consistent industries. In 2006, the direct spending impact of Bellingham-Whatcom County visitors reached $422.5 million. They contributed over $6.5 million in city and county taxes, and $23.8 million in state tax receipts. Over 6,500 of your friends and neighbors are employed as a result of the local tourism industry — most in locally owned businesses.

Tourism has long been revered as an economic development catalyst for its infusion of new dollars into a community and its generation and support of jobs. In recent years, however, the tourism industry has also been a driver of programs that help define and preserve the natural, historical and cultural attractions and experiences that characterize a community. Parks and trails projects in particular are often developed or enhanced through tourism-related revenues. These amenities become a valued part of the community infrastructure, popular with residents as well as visitors and making an important contribution to the area’s quality of life. After all, a community that is a desirable place for its residents to live and work is also a destination that appeals to visitors.

As you make (and often ignore) your new year’s resolutions, I’d like to invite you to make 2008 the year to rediscover this place we call home. When was the last time you took the long way home just to see the scenery? Or popped into the stores that line the main street of your own community? Or visited one of our fine museums, attended a theatrical performance, or browsed the galleries that showcase our local artisans? Or searched for shells and sand dollars in the shallows?

Our knowledgeable staff and volunteers at the Visitor Information Center can help you with maps, brochures and ideas for exploring your own backyard. You may be amazed by the historical, cultural, recreational and agricultural activities that are offered throughout the year. You may fall in love with Bellingham-Whatcom County all over again. And, since many of our tourists come here to visit family and friends, you’ll be better equipped to show them the great local treasures you’ve found.

Maybe even teach them your little happy dance.


Loni Rahm is president and CEO of Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism, a nonprofit destination marketing organization dedicated to the enhancement of the local economy through the tourism sector. She encourages you to utilize the vast information resources available at the BWCT Visitor Information Center at 904 Potter St. and open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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