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Thursday, March 16, 2006 - Page updated at 08:24 AM

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Brows furrow over tourism slogan

The Associated Press

The state's new tourism slogan, "SayWA," may be more clever than its critics suggest.

After all, "saywa" does mean "landmark" in Aymara, a language spoken by 2.2 million people in South America. And those Andean villagers around Lake Titicaca are suckers for backpacking.

True, they aren't the state's target demographic — 35- to 55-year-old Westerners with disposable income — but the Washington State Tourism Office might hope the slogan resonates there, because a lot of English speakers are panning it.

"It's just not that catchy," said Sarah Owens of Seattle as she led a couple of Irish tourists through Pike Place Market. "Who makes these decisions? Washington's spectacular. It doesn't need a slogan."

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The slogan, 18 months in development, is designed to promote Washington's numerous tourist attractions, from hiking in the Olympic Mountains to visiting wine country to windsurfing in the Columbia River Gorge.

A replacement for "Experience Washington," it was chosen with input from a 32-member "brand development task force," that included Chamber of Commerce directors, tourism officials and business representatives from around the state.

"SayWA is a distillation of the sense of wonder that comes with discovery," the tourism office's Web site suggests. "It describes the moment when an experience becomes emotional. Where the traveler is no longer an observer, but a participant. The SayWA moment."

One mock advertisement shows tourists taking pictures of the Columbia Gorge. "SayWA: This is the sound of jaws dropping." More than one observer noted that dropping jaws are generally silent.

Others said "WA" reminds them most of a baby crying, or a toddler asking for water. Even the slang basis for it — "Say what?" — is a response to something nonsensical.

"Thirty-five years ago I smoked dope and probably could have come up with something like that," said Darrell Bryan, general manager of Victoria Clipper, the largest tour operator in the Northwest. "To me, it's better to have no slogan than to come up with something like that. There's too much scratching the head about 'What does that mean?' "

The state's tourism office said the slogan was designed to help Washington escape traditional tourism advertising.

"Any good campaign is going to cause people to stop and wonder about it," said spokeswoman Michelle Zahrly. "We know, as with any marketing campaign, that not all the people are going to like it, but ... it will reach those people we're hoping to attract here."

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