The Transient Lodging Tax at work: Part one

Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part series focusing on the Transient Lodging Tax and what the money is used for. Part one focuses on tourism.

The Three Graces and Munson Creek Falls. Visit Tillamook Coast is helping to promote the treasures and hidden gems of Tillamook County. – Photos by Brian Cameron

When voters of Tillamook County decided to pass the Transient Lodging Tax (TLT) almost four years ago there came with it a few expectations that the monies would be used for not only tourism, but roads and facilities as well. Checking in with officials of the matter it’s found the money is being used for a number of surprising endeavors and for a wide variety of current and future projects for Tillamook County. This is the first installment into a two-part series of how the nearly $8 million (so far) in TLT dollars are being used.

Nan Devlin is the Director of Visit Tillamook Coast (VTC), the appointed organization that handles the majority of the funds from the county coffers. Visit Tillamook Coast is what is known as a Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) and through publicly funded dollars acts on Tillamook County’s behalf to solicit more ways of not only advertising but also general representation for Tillamook County.

“The TLT funds are basically divided up between tourism, facilities and roads,” Devlin said. “Thirty percent goes toward the public roads department and the remaining 70 percent is split almost in half with 55 percent of that going toward facilities grants and the remaining 45 percent for marketing and promotions.”

As far as the marketing and promotions for tourism the monies are being allocated in a wide variety of locations from services like writing, photography, video and design to larger projects for community tourism related beautification and functionality such as county-wide signage that applies to individual towns and communities.

To date, some of the publications VTC have successfully pitched pieces to include “Oregon Coast Magazine,” “Northwest Travel and Life,” “Sunset Magazine,” “Willamette Living,” “Northwest Sportsmen,” “RV Life,” “Northwest Meetings and Events,” “1859,” “Portland Monthly,” “Outdoors Northwest,” “Oregon Coast Today,” “Trailer Life,” “Men’s Journal” and the “Los Angeles Times” to name a few. As well as television programs like OPB, Grant’s Getaways, KGW, and also Northwest Outdoors Radio.

In order to get the word out about the Tillamook Coast they hired a public relations specialist whose job it is to do just that – pitch the area to regional and national publications but also VTC will itself pitch articles and collected media if they feel it fits the desired target publication, specifically if they reach out or are currently following VTC on Twitter or social media.

How the tourism budget is divided is also a subject to behold. For specific marketing and promotion, VTC allocates roughly $220,000 toward getting the word out, but also in the last fiscal year they have awarded roughly $200,000 in specific grants to qualifying individuals and entities throughout Tillamook County. Some of these grants have been used to better reach interested persons, parties and to generally build customer bases with a number of entities. The local nonprofit Watersheds Estuaries Bays and Streams (WEBS) and the Tillamook Estuaries Partnership (TEP) for example have utilized grant funding to create a litany of free programs they call “Explore Nature” which cover a number of activities from oyster growing tours, guided nature hikes, clamming workshops, bay and beach cleanups, kayak tours and even gardening classes.

But the TLT dollars are more than just funding programs, grants and marketing. Another aspect is something called Wayfinding. Wayfinding in and of itself is a massive project that requires a great deal of planning and coordination, not to mention some deep pockets in order to get things done. In VTC’s case Wayfinding, for now at least, means signage and lots of it. There are plans currently on the table to bring a comprehensive Wayfinding program to Tillamook. What does this mean exactly? It means directional signage, community maps, and consistent themes between towns and villages. Wayfinding is roadside and pedestrian signage, informational kiosks and that’s just the beginning.

“It’s an incredibly complex undertaking that we’re trying to do with Wayfinding,” Devlin said. “It requires close cooperation and coordination with the county’s cities, chambers, attractions, community members and not to mention the Oregon Department of Transportation, Oregon Travel Experience and Scenic Byways to name just a few agencies involved in the process.”

VTC hopes to start breaking ground with signage placement and installation over the next year and build from there, it’s scheduled for a five-year phase of installing and construction in order to complete the Wayfinding project. This will put it right on track with the 2014 “Tourism 2025” plan which makes it a priority for Tillamook County to promote recreation, local culture and village exploration.

Devlin said when she first took the position it wasn’t her goal to simply buy ads in publications, she felt it was about properly representing the spirit of the area.

“I didn’t want flashy gimmicks to try and bring folks to Tillamook,” Devlin said. “I wanted to emphasize a respect for the environment, the people who live and work here, and our core values. I want this place to tell its own story.”

For more information on what VTC is up to check out to read up on tourism related happenings in Tillamook County.