Owing to the high visibility of tourism in San Juan County, and ‘destination marketing’ by the SJIVB, questions have emerged over the years as to why and how the SJIVB was created, and so we’re taking this opportunity to explain our beginnings…..
The Business Association of San Juan County (BASJC) is the parent organization of the SJIVB and was a volunteer, non-profit organization which was created in 1999 when local businesses determined a need for a proactive, cooperative marketing organization to interact with state and local government, particularly to further economic development. At that time, both the County Commissioners and the Washington Office of Community, Trade & Economic Development (CTED) decided to make tourism the focus for enhancing county and state revenue. The Business Association undertook an analysis of the relatively few resources devoted to tourism support and found that the Visitor Information Service (VIS), chartered by the County Commissioners, was limited to only respond to visitor inquiries rather than actively promote the Islands.
In 2001, the BASJC, representing approximately 100 businesses on three Islands, requested that the County begin collecting an additional 2% “special” lodging tax to invest specifically in destination marketing. A Lodging Tax Advisory Committee (LTAC) was formed, the County began collecting the additional 2% in October 2002, and in December 2002 the BASJC d.b.a. SJIVB was selected to contract with the County to provide its destination marketing services. The SJIVB officially began its work on March 26, 2003 with its first staff member, Deborah Hopkins Buchanan, who had been serving as the BASJC’s Marketing Committee Chair, was employed by Roche Harbor Resort, and had nine years previous experience working for two CVB/DMOs.
The LTAC recommended, and the County Commissioners decided, that the SJIVB, as the destination marketing organization (DMO), would receive 85% of the “special” 2% lodging tax, and the three Chambers of Commerce would split the remaining 15% to help fund visitor information centers to support enhanced visitor services. There was talk of the Chambers only receiving their proportionate share of Island lodging tax, but it was decided that all three Chambers should split the 15% in order to provide equitable opportunity. In 2018 our funding formula was reduced slightly, and the Chambers began receiving more overall funding. The “original” 2% lodging tax continues to be granted annually to tourism facilities including museums, theatres, fairgrounds, parks, etc. as well as special events and festivals.
Today, the BASJC/SJIVB represents approximately 300 member businesses and non-profit organizations on all four ferry-served Islands, has a 15-member Board of Directors, and employs 4.9 staff. Underpinned by the BASJC’s IRS status as a non-profit, 501(c)6 economic development entity, the Visitors Bureau is responsible for competitively marketing San Juan County as a premier, year-round travel destination targeting leisure travelers, destination weddings and meetings/retreats. Our current five-year County contract runs through 2022. We apply for annual destination marketing grants from the Town of Friday Harbor to help fund seasonal marketing campaigns and media relations. We are also funded by membership dues and website advertising. With local governments’ continuing support, the San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau has become a recognized leader in destination marketing.