Premise is worth further consideration

Published 1:44 am Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Washington’s City Council should further explore an idea that surface last week during one of its budget work sessions. That idea being that perhaps the city should spend more money marketing itself as a destination for tourists.

The city has not been ignoring the need to market itself as a destination for out-of-town visitors. Lynn Lewis, the city’s tourism-development director, will tell one quickly the city has been doing that for several years, with good results.

As much as the city appreciates those people who make day trips to see the Washington waterfront, visit the North Carolina Estuarium and look at the historic structures in Washington’s historic district, the city would rather have these people staying in the city for several days running, say during the Summer Festival, Smoke on the Water or the East Carolina Wildlife Arts Festival and North Carolina Decoy Carving Championships.

As the council discussed spending money on wayfinding and streetscape projects, Mayor Archie Jennings broached the idea of spending more money to market the city.

Jennings suggested it may be a better investment for the city to spend money allocated for such projects on marketing the city to areas 100 miles or more from the city. The mayor said he has no problems with wayfinding and streetscape projects.

“My concern is this: almost all of our projects of that vein have been right here in Washington. I would submit that the dollars could be levered to a greater degree if we were marketing Washington outside of our market. In other words, to you stay inside of your house all day dusting, cleaning and sprucing and whatnot, and never invite anybody to come over and benefit from the dusting and sprucing and all that sort of thing, or you do some of both and put some marketing in a designated, funded manner out away from here somewhere and tell somebody about Washington?” Jennings said. “I think right now what we’re doing is fluffing pillows back home a lot.”

Councilman Doug Mercer weighed in on the issue.

“If you recall a couple of years ago, we allocated $16,000 to the downtown group for advertisement outside of the city for advertising of events,” Mercer said. “I think the first year, it was probably spent in that manner. But now that $16,000 is just part of a general allocation and it’s being rolled into the general budget. If we’re going to say that 16 grand that we added to our budget a couple years ago is for advertising outside the area, I think we ought to be specific and say that.”

Jennings said he is looking for “a balanced approach and one that we can point to in the budget instead of having to pick out bits and pieces and say this falls in that category and that falls in that category.”

The mayor and council appear to be on the right track. It’s time the city’s tourism-development efforts go farther down that track. It’s an investment that will pay good dividends to the city, its business community and its economy.