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Funding sought to drive Columbia County Tourism Initiative goals forward in next year

PMG PHOTO: ANNA DEL SAVIO - Amanda Lowthian, left, and Alison Hart, right, provide county commissioners an overview of the Columbia County Tourism Initiative's work at a commission meeting Aug. 28, 2019.A year into the Columbia County Tourism Initiative, the program of the Columbia County Economic Team is having its goals clarified as initiative leaders look toward the future.

Part of that future hinges on collecting funds from local governments to help drive countywide tourism plans.

The Columbia County Tourism Initiative was started in 2018 with funds from the Regional Cooperative Tourism Program, which is principally funded by the state's 1.8% tax on temporary lodgings.

In September 2018, a 22-member steering committee that includes business owners and local government officials first met to discuss the program.

"We have been working for the last year or more on putting together an initiative to promote Columbia County as a destination, to increase the economic impact of the tourism in the area," consultant and Columbia County Tourism Initiative lead Alison Hart told the Columbia County Board of Commissioners at its Wednesday, Aug. 28, meeting.

Previous tourism efforts in the county did not stretch evenly throughout the county, Hart said.

The Regional Cooperative Tourism Program is operated by Travel Oregon, the state's official tourism marketing agency. Oregon is divided into seven regions, each of which with a designated body to act as the regional tourism initiative. Columbia County is part of the Portland region, operated by Travel Portland.

Amanda Lowthian, the Portland region director of the Regional Cooperative Tourism Program, attended the meeting with Hart.

"We've been so pleased to have Columbia County Economic Team at the table," Lowthian said. "Prior to their involvement and participation, there was no real single point of contact or funnel for being able to communicate back and forth as peer destination marketing organizations."

The Portland region plan for the 2017-2019 biennium showed a lack of meaningful participation in Columbia County.

"Efforts to engage Columbia County staff in RCTP in an ongoing and productive way have been unsuccessful to date," Travel Portland wrote.

The Columbia County Tourism Initiative was created since that plan was set in place, allowing the county to use tourism funds that would have otherwise been redirected to other parts of the Portland region.

Over the past year, the initiative has aided the city of Scappoose in securing grant funds to advance tourism for the Crown Zellerbach Trail.

Outdoor recreation opportunities have been identified as a key component of the county's potential for tourism, Hart explained. This year, the program will focus on developing more "tourism products" like waterfront recreation areas and trails, as well as expanding the niche markets that Columbia County Tourism Initiative research has identified, such as water sports, cycling and dirt biking.

Columbia County Commissioner Alex Tardif, a member of the initiative's steering committee, moved to provide the initiative with $10,000, as

Hart had requested at the meeting.

"If we don't step forward as the leader, being the county, and encouraging the rest of our community to work collaboratively toward this effort, how then do we promote Shop Local and how then do we promote small businesses?" Tardif asked at the meeting.

While Commissioner Henry Heimuller said he supports tourism development funding, he wants more evidence of how the initiative has used past allocations. Tardif's funding motion died for lack of a second.

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