Patty Murray talks tourism, listens to concerns

According to the Kitsap Visitors and Convention Bureau, visitors to Kitsap County spend an average of $113 on an overnight trip and $43 on a daytrip.

That translates into millions of dollars a year.

Representatives from Kitsap Transit, Clearwater Casino, Visitors and Convention Bureau, county government and other tourism-related groups met with United States Sen. Patty Murray recently to voice their concerns.

The senator also talked about her efforts regarding the Ferry Transportation Enhancement Act.

The act would quadruple the funding for the country’s ferry systems including those in Washington State.

“Our ferries are our highway system,” she told the group.

“The symbol of ferries moving people and vehicles across the Puget Sound is as much a part of our state’s identity as Boeing aircraft and Washington apples,” she said.

The nation’s six largest ferry systems — Washington, Alaska, Hawaii, New York/New Jersey, North Carolina and San Francisco — transported 73 million people and 13 million vehicles last year. Washington State Ferries, the largest ferry service in the country, transported 26 million passengers and 11 million vehicles per year.

The Ferry Transportation Enhancement Act would:

l Provide $150 million a year to the Federal Highway Administration’s Ferry Boat Discretionary program for fiscal years 2004-09.

l Ferry maintenance facilities are eligible for funding.

l Ferries would be added to the Clean Fuels Program, which would help boat makers design cleaner and more efficient vessels.

Murray’s second initiative would be to establish broadband technology in rural communities.

“Every rural community wants broadband, but they don’t know what they want it for,” Murray said at the conference held at the Red Lion Hotel Silverdale.

She hopes to see Internet access available on the ferries for those commuters who want constant connectivity.

“It’s one of the things that would add charisma to the ferries,” she said.

“I want to do what I can at the federal level to do that,” she continued.

Then the floor was opened to comments for the senator.

Jon Rose, of Olympic Resource Management, suggested it isn’t the place, but the experience that draws tourists.

“The quality of experience has to be world class to get them here,” he said.

All three Kitsap County Commissioners attended the meeting including Patty Lent of Central Kitsap.

“We need to get the message out to more than just Seattle,” she said relying on her decades of experience in the travel industry.

Phil Dorn, who represented the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe agreed.

“Marketing is important. If you’re in the county you know about (the attractions) but in Thurston County,” you wouldn’t have heard of them, he said.

Russell Steele, CEO for the Suquamish Clearwater Casino said a major issue for him was the education of his employees. With a hotel on the horizon, his people need training in the art of hospitality he said.

Others agreed that education and offering vocational training is crucial to developing a base on which tourism can be built.

“We desperately need each other to make this happen,” said Jan Angel, county commissioner.

After about an hour of idea sharing the group adjourned so that Murray could tour the area.

“I’m excited by the energy,” she said.

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