Mayor Harrell Signs Seattle Tourism Improvement Area Legislation – Providing Economic Boost to the Region Through the Leisure Travel Industry

Collaborative effort between Office of Economic Development, Mayor’s Office, Seattle City Council and Visit Seattle will increase Seattle Tourism Improvement Area (STIA) assessment rate to fund marketing and promotional activities that draw individuals and families to Seattle for vacation.

Seattle –Today, Mayor Bruce Harrell signed the Seattle Tourism Improvement Area (STIA) amendment legislation into law, following Seattle City Council’s unanimous vote approving the mayor’s proposed amendment on March 29, 2022. The legislation will allow for increased travel and tourism promotion for the city and region. 

“Today, I’m proud to sign this Seattle Tourism Improvement Area legislation into law to further strengthen Seattle’s ability to market and promote itself as a world-class city to visitors from all over the world,” said Mayor Bruce Harrell. “This was one of the first bills I submitted to Council as mayor, and I want to thank Councilmember Sara Nelson for her strong leadership guiding it through to unanimous approval. Tourism is a powerful economic driver in our region, benefitting small and local businesses of all kinds across the city. Together, we will continue striving to make Seattle a safe, exciting, and thriving City for residents and visitors alike.” 

STIA currently consists of 67 hotels in downtown Seattle neighborhoods including Lower Queen Anne, South Lake Union, Belltown, Pioneer Square, SoDo, and portions of Capitol Hill, each with 60 rooms or more. These member hotels charge overnight guests a specified assessment amount per occupied room per night, generating millions in revenue that support STIA programs and services. 

By ordinance, the fees collected from an assessment on overnight hotel stays are directed in their entirety to a dedicated leisure travel marketing fund administered by Visit Seattle, the City’s official nonprofit tourism marketing organization. 

The increased assessment will allow Visit Seattle to more competitively promote leisure travel to the region by raising the assessment from $2 to $4 per occupied room per night—a critical need during this phase of economic recovery. The new $4 assessment rate is projected to help generate $10 million in fiscal year 2022—a potential $3M increase from what was projected at the $2 rate.  

“Passage of this long-awaited rate change is a major boost for downtown revitalization and citywide neighborhood economic recovery,” said Councilmember Sara Nelson, Chair of the Economic Development, Technology, and City Light Committee. “The additional funds will allow for better promotion of our beautiful, vibrant City as the Number One destination for leisure travel – and more visitors means more small business customers, jobs, and critical revenue for basic services.” 

STIA funds are generated from overnight guests of downtown hotels, however, marketing efforts funded by the assessment rates support the entire City – promoting the diverse offerings and experiences available throughout Seattle and the region. Previous campaigns and events supported by STIA include I Know a Place, Seattle Museum Month, Refract Seattle, and VISITSEATTLE.tv , which encourage consumers to explore Seattle through its neighborhoods, natural landmarks, arts and culture scene, culinary offerings and more.  

STIA was established in 2011 to fill a void in leisure tourism marketing and promotion efforts that existed at the state and city level. Prior to the pandemic, the STIA generated $8 million in collections. In 2019, Visit Seattle and STIA member hotels began engagement with the city to increase the assessment rate which had remained flat since its inception in 2011. However, efforts to increase the rate were paused due to the immediate and devastating impacts from COVID-19 to the travel industry. With a nearly 85% vaccination rate in Seattle-King County of individuals 5 years and older, and less restrictive public health measures in effect—the region is seeing positive recovery for both the leisure travel industry and the broader local economy. For example, preliminary 2021 tourism impact metrics presented by Visit Seattle at their Annual Outlook Meeting show:  

  • 27.5 million visitors came to Seattle and King County, a 25% increase from 2020 
  • $5.6 billion was spent in the city and county from visitors, a 43.8% increase from 2020  
  • $550.5 million in state and local taxes were paid by visitors, an increase of 50.7% from 2020  
  • Tourism related jobs continued to recover in 2021, with more than 58,000 local jobs, a 19.3% increase in Seattle and King County  

“Visit Seattle thanks Mayor Harrell and City Council for their support of the increase to our STIA assessment,” said Visit Seattle President and CEO Tom Norwalk. “It’s been a very challenging two years and these funds will help our entire region work towards recovery from the pandemic – benefiting the small businesses that make Seattle the unique and exciting destination visitors love.” 

“Our city and region have so much to offer visitors from across the country and around the world. Increasing the revenue available to proactively promote our city, our communities, our businesses, and our cultures is a benefit to us all,” said Office of Economic Interim Director Markham McIntyre. “Our city is taking steps in the right direction on this road of economic recovery. Visit Seattle’s work will help draw visitors to our region to enjoy and support all that our neighborhoods and communities have to offer.”  

 The new $4 assessment rate will take effect later this spring, bolstering promotional efforts for the balance of 2022 and beyond. Top priority for Visit Seattle and the STIA is growing leisure visitation from key domestic source markets.  Added funding from the increased STIA assessment will allow Visit Seattle to reach a much larger audience, particularly during this recovery phase when destination marketing is as competitive as ever. STIA will also support comprehensive public relations efforts, helping position the destination as a must-visit destination, and expand Visit Seattle’s global footprint, inviting travelers from around the world to visit the Emerald City.  As visitor volumes continue to grow, the economic impact of tourism can be easily found across the city. 

“Increasing the STIA assessment stands to benefit small businesses of all kinds,” said Trey Lamont, Chef and Owner of Jerk Shack. “As a restaurant owner, I rely on visitors as an important source of business. The passage of this legislation enables us to welcome more visitors to Seattle, especially as we all attempt to recover from the pandemic.” 

“Our city’s hotels are overwhelmingly supportive of an increase to the STIA assessment,” said Juriana Spierenburg, Hotel Manager of citizenM Seattle South Lake Union. “With the increased funds, our City will be able to compete as a destination to attract domestic and international visitors, which will benefit the many hotels, restaurants, shops and attractions that employ tens of thousands of residents.”  “The passing of the STIA assessment helps ensure Seattle’s commitment to the arts and culture of our region remains vibrant,” said LaNesha DeBardelaben, President & CEO of the Northwest African American Museum. “Our region’s celebration of diversity makes our City a compelling place to live, work and visit and STIA can help tell this powerful story to potential visitors all over the world.”