FAQs - Tourism in the San Juan Islands

What are the benefits of tourism?

The San Juan Islands are among the most naturally spectacular places on the planet. And while the San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau's (SJIVB) primary job is to promote visitation, we also balance visitor impacts by striving to attract thoughtful visitors and educate all to “tread lightly." These are among the many challenges of island-style responsible tourism marketing and management.



How Does Tourism Benefit San Juan County?

  • Travel and tourism is a major economic driver for our county. Visitors spent approximately $251 million in San Juan County in 2018. Tourism also directly supports more than 2,200 jobs which translates to nearly $75 million in salaries.  (Source: Dean Runyan Associates)
  • Visitors also pay taxes, which reduce residents' taxes. Taxes collected from visitors include lodging taxes and fees, meal tax, retail sales tax, and admissions tax. These taxes support vital civil services, inside and outside the tourism sector. 
  • Lodging tax, which is used to fund tourism marketing and management projects, helps to keep our local nonprofit organizations such as art and historical museums, and cultural and performing arts centers, open. Recipients of lodging tax funds have also historically included the San Juan County Fair, County Parks, San Juan Island Agricultural Guild, arts, literary and music events, farmers markets, film festivals, a salmon hatchery, and much more. 
  • These funds also have been used locally for Public Works to upgrade infrastructure for visitors and residents such as parking lots and trails.
  • Lodging tax also supports shoulder and quiet season advertising campaigns which extend the window in which visitors come, making year-round jobs more viable in more than just the tourism sector.
Shopping in Eastsound by Robert Harrison
San Juan Island Farmers Market by Barbara Marrett

How Does Tourism Benefit Businesses other Than Hotels, Restaurants And Attractions? 

  • Many businesses throughout the San Juans benefit from a balance of customers that include both visitors and residents. This includes retail outlets, grocery stores, entertainment venues, and transportation providers. Likewise, employees in the tourism industry use their wages to make purchases throughout the islands for food, transportation, lodging, goods, and services. Even though a business may not think of itself as benefiting from tourism, the indirect benefits of tourism impact nearly every type of business in our islands, from graphic artists and web designers to electricians, plumbers and landscapers.


What about the hidden costs that tourism has on local infrastructure, essential services, and the environment?

  • Visitors use much of the same infrastructure and services that residents use, including roads, airports, police/fire protection, medical services, etc. No doubt, a growing tourism industry requires adequate investment and maintenance of our local infrastructure and public services. Taxes paid by tourists help pay for sidewalks, parking lots, restrooms, etc. The positive impact of tourism on infrastructure and public services benefits everyone---residents, visitors, and businesses.


What kinds of jobs does tourism generate?

  • Most people associate tourism with hourly jobs in the service sector; it's true that tourism is accountable for over two thousand of these types of jobs locally. What is often overlooked are the jobs of owners or managers that are a part of the tourism industry.
  • We see registration desk staff and housekeepers, but don't always notice the managers, supervisors, accountants, and marketers that work in a hotel or resort. We see wait staff, bartenders and cooks but don't notice the team of managers, chefs, accountants, and supervisors that are needed to run a restaurant.  Attractions and tour companies also employ managers, marketers and customer service reps. 
  • Visitor dollars also support and sustain an overlooked corps of park service professionals, small business owners, medical professionals, legal professionals, insurance agents, bankers and service professionals such as contractors, plumbers and electricians---all play an integral role in our economy and community. 


Why should public funds be used to promote tourism?

  • The funding used to promote tourism in San Juan County is collected from visitors who overnight here, not residents. Although it is considered public funding, it doesn’t come from resident’s taxes and yet residents greatly benefit from the parks, museums and cultural centers which receive “public” lodging taxes. Washington State law strictly limits the use of lodging tax. (RCW 67.28.180)
  • Destination marketing and management organizations, such as the San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau, exist to create interest in visiting an area. Once the interest is established, individual businesses may more effectively market their own business. This public/private funding model of tourism promotion is quite common in towns, cities, counties, states and countries.


With all the beautiful parks, beaches and free things to do in the Islands, why do we have to promote tourism? Wouldn't people come anyway?

  • The San Juan Islands are fortunate to be home to an exceptional mix of natural environments, amenities and attractions. We are a mecca for hiking, biking and kayaking enthusiasts. And while most visitors who choose to vacation here rank nature and wildlife as a big draw, our research confirms that the diverse non-nature amenities---restaurants, galleries, cultural venues, boutiques, museums and variety of lodgings, etc.---are what differentiates our destination and makes it so popular and diverse.
  • Research has shown that when you stop promoting a destination, its economy quickly feels the impact. The destination loses market share to competing destinations with healthy marketing budgets. This happened to Washington State when it closed its state tourism office from 2011 to 2018.
  • Without the promotion of these Islands and amenities, we cannot compete for tourism dollars that help to sustain businesses, create jobs and support vital civil services in the San Juan Islands. 

While tourism is a vital economic engine here, we realize it must be balanced with other small industries and opportunities to create a resilient year-round economy. Each day, the SJIVB strives to balance four critical factors: 1) the quality of our economy, 2) our quality of life, 3) the quality of our environment, and 4) the quality of our visitors' experiences.  Since 1999, our mission has been "To enhance the economic prosperity of San Juan County by promoting the San Juan Islands as a preferred, year-round travel destination, while respecting and sustaining the Islands' unique and diverse ecosystems, environments, lifestyles and cultures."

Questions or comments?

Please contact:  Deborah Hopkins, Executive/Marketing Director,  [email protected] or 360-378-3277 ext. 5.


American Camp, San Juan Island Historical Park, Park Sevice Photo