Yakima Valley National Travel and Tourism Week

NTTW14_V_4C_jpegMay 3-11 is National Travel and Tourism Week, when across America, the tourism industry celebrates the role travel plays in the economy and their communities.

As a kick off to the celebration, on April 30th Yakima Valley Tourism hosted their tourism awards luncheon at the Yakima Convention Center, with 200 business and civic leaders in attendance. Bale Breaker Brewery was presented Tourism Business of the Year for their unique brewery operation in a working hop field and the media attention they have garnered since they opened in April 2013. John Baule, Director of the Yakima Valley Museum, was recognized as Tourism Person of the Year for his past and present efforts to enhance Yakima as a destination and his service to numerous arts and community organizations.

Tourism is a big industry for Yakima County. Travelers in 2013 spent $359 million in the county, which is up 4.7% since 2008 when the national economy entered a recession. “With the exception of a slight dip in 2010, travel and tourism grew each year for the past five years,” stated John Cooper, President & CEO of Yakima Valley Tourism. “That’s a testament to the strength and endurance of this industry in our region, even during economic downturns.”

There are 3,530 people employed in tourism in Yakima County. Visitors generate around $24 million a year in state and local taxes, which Cooper points out goes towards public services enjoyed by local residents including police, fire, parks and roads.

The U.S. Travel Association (U.S.T.A.) has developed a campaign called the Travel Effect, which illustrates the impact travel and tourism has on our lives, businesses and local, state and national economies.

According to U.S.T.A., travel supports 15 million jobs across the nation. The workforce includes workers in the transportation, hotel, restaurant, attraction and retail sectors. In addition, travel and tourism supports employees in other industry sectors such as construction, manufacturing and finance.

U.S.T.A .reports that travel also promotes physical and physiological health and improves workplace productivity. In 2013, the average U.S. employee skipped 3.2 days of paid time off. According to a recent study, if workers used all of their available paid time off, the U.S. economy would gain $160 billion in additional annual business sales, which would support 1.2 million new jobs and generate $21 billion in new annual tax revenues.

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A Look at Tourism in the Yakima Valley in 2013

As the new year begins we’re busy finishing up an our Annual Report, which will be out later this month. In the mean time, here are a few the year’s highlights through November:

Convention & Group Sales:  At the end of November the sales department confirmed 94 conventions held (up 11% over same period in 2012), reached 90% of their group leads goal and exceeded their annual hotel room nights confirmed goal by 5% with 35,842 room nights!

The Yakima Convention Center welcomed Centerplate as the new caterer in May after the Red Lion Corporation (which owned M&M Catering) discontinued their contract. Centerplate caters at 300 convention and event venues across the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom and annually serves more than 115 million guests.

Web marketing: Our main website performed very well. Through November the site saw more than 293,590 visitors, an increase of 24% over 2012. Much of the increased traffic was a result of seasonal campaigns like the current “win a ski day contest with Andy Mahre”.

New websites: The Spirits and Hops Trail was launched in July and celebrates locally made adult beverages and our hop heritage. Yakima Valley Made is a directory of more than 100 locally grown and crafted goods and products. Both sites have been popular and  help us to market Yakima Valley artisan products.

Public Relations/Media: We placed more than 90 travel and lifestyle media pieces in 2013 with an advertising value exceeding $538,000. Click here for a sampling of the stories and features that resulted from our efforts.

Our  Yakima Valley Sports  Commission saw record attendance at their Hot Shots 3 on 3 Tourney with 497 teams, an increase of 8.5% from 2012 and the sixth straight year the team numbers have grown.  In its second year, the Pirate Plunder Adventure Race plunged ahead with 1,484 racers… that’s 60% more participants than in 2012!

The Yakima Valley Visitor Center celebrated 10 years of service in May with a community party. Pam Lakman is the new Manager at the VIC, replacing Pam Alamos who retired.

Wine tourism: The Washington Wine Country alliance continued the Taste and Tote “wine flies free” program with Alaska Airlines. In October we welcomed Hertz as the new rental car partner for the program. Our CEO John Cooper was a speaker at the national Wine Tourism Conference held in Portland last month, highlighting partnerships and local marketing projects. Other projects included seasonal websites for major wine events and wine country focused advertising.

These are just a sampling of the successes and projects for 2013.  Stay tuned for the full Annual Report soon.

Tourism 2020: State of the Tourism Industry in the Yakima Valley

headerImageBlockTM-copyAs the New Year begins, the Yakima Valley Visitors & Convention Bureau is rolling out a number of programs aimed at building all forms of tourism in the Yakima Valley in 2014 and beyond.  To outline these projects, the Bureau will hold a presentation Friday, January 17th 10:00 a.m. at the Yakima Convention Center, 10 North 8th Street in Downtown Yakima.

Among the topics to be covered:

  • Update on the state of the tourism industry nationally, state wide and locally
  • Brief review of Tourism 2020, the organization’s  strategic plan for tourism in the Yakima Valley
  • Review proposed legislation to fund new Washington state tourism efforts
  • Announce an important change for the Yakima Valley Visitors & Convention Bureau

There is no charge to attend the session and the event is open to the public. To RSVP call 800- 221-0751 or contact laura@visityakima.com

How the U.S. Federal Shutdown is Affecting Tourism

capitol-building For the past week I’ve noticed various stories on how the partial government shutdown has affected people and communities. Just a few minutes ago the U.S. Travel Association released some telling data on what it means from an economic standpoint.

In their release the U.S. Travel Association estimates “the partial government shutdown costs the U.S. $152 million a day in economic output due to lost travel-related activity, affecting as many as 450,000 American workers directly or indirectly supported by the travel industry.” What’s particularly frustrating is that travel and tourism is America’s top services export and that the industry has added jobs faster than the rest of the economy since the U.S. economic recovery began three years ago.  Now we may lose ground on those economic benefits and job growth due to this stalemate.

It’s clear to me that travel and tourism’s impact on the economy and peoples livelihood are just two more reasons why all parties involved need to put the rhetoric aside and find a solution to the impasse. Now.

John Cooper

President & CEO

Washington Tourism Alliance Attends IPW 2013

Pow wow 2013

Delegates work the Washington Tourism Alliance booth at IPW last week

U.S. Travel Association’s 45th annual IPW (formerly known as Pow Wow)  is the travel industry’s premier international marketplace and the largest generator of travel to the U.S.  Last week representatives from the Washington Tourism Alliance staffed a booth at IPW in Las Vegas to promote the state. More than 6,400 people from 70 states were in attendance, a record for the show. The event is estimated to generate more than $3.5 billion in travel to the U.S. over the next three years.

The delegates met with 43 tour operators and media in 20 minute appointments over three days. Working the booth were Jordan Youngs of the Tri City Visitors and Convention Bureau, Sandy Ward of the Future of Flight and Boeing Center, Meilee Anderson from Seattle Southside and John Cooper, WTA Board member from the Yakima Valley VCB.

The Travel and Tourism Industry: We Create Memories

NTTW13_V_4C_jpgThink back to your fondest memories. Chances are that many revolve around a trip or journey. Your first breathtaking view of the Grand Canyon as a young child. Seeing Abraham Lincoln perched on his chair as you walk up the steps of his memorial in Washington D.C. Maybe it’s just time spent with family or loved ones as you explore a new place together. Cherished moments.

Sure vacations have their mishaps. A missed plane, an illness in a foreign country, a feeling of desperation with language barriers. But even these set-backs can be life enriching through lessons learned and stories to tell.

This week those of us in the travel and tourism industry celebrate National Travel and Tourism Week. Mostly we trumpet what this amazing industry means to our country from an economic view point. It is substantial. According the U.S. Travel Association, travel generates $2 trillion for the U.S. economy and supports nearly 15 million American jobs. Travel contributes more than $129 billion in federal, state and local taxes. Here in the Yakima Valley visitors spend in excess of $350 million each year and support more than 3,500 local jobs.

But I think that travel offers something even more important. It’s a force for helping all of us to learn from other cultures, to be more understanding of the people and issues that shape our world. To connect with people. I remember a business trip I took to Haiphong, Vietnam, a few years back. During free time, our group wandered into the streets near our hotel. In no time I became separated from the others and I lost my bearings in the narrow, congested streets. A street vendor who had approached me earlier to buy post cards realized I was lost. He guided me back to the main boulevard within sight of the hotel, never asking for anything in return. He just smiled and pointed at the hotel. I bought a packet of his post cards and have them framed in my home. Needless to say that simple gesture helped to shape my view of Haiphong.

While the travel and tourism industry contributes substantially to the economic well-being of our communities, its fundamental mission is to serve our guests and to help them to have wonderful, life enriching experiences. In essence, the job of this industry is to help create memories.

John Cooper
President & CEO

Driving Meeting and Sports Business to the Yakima Valley

2013-04-16_11-34-58_648This week the hospitality industry of Yakima went to the  LeMay Car Museum in Tacoma to show Washington state meeting and sports planners that the Yakima Valley is ready to drive results for their meetings and events.

Sixty-two staff from thirty-one  groups came to the museum to learn about new services for the meeting and sports industry in Yakima, network, enjoy food and have fun. The event was sponsored by Yakima Valley Visitors and Convention Bureau, Yakima Convention Center and Yakima Valley Sports Commission. It was also an opportunity for the participants to meet staff from Centerplate, the new caterer for the Yakima Convention Center.

“These social events with meeting planners and sports organizers are a key way we keep in touch,” stated John Cooper, President and CEO of the Yakima Valley Visitors & Convention Bureau. “It gives our industry an opportunity to provide the attendees with updates while learning how we can better serve them.”

Yakima Convention Center and Centerplate staff working the trade show

Yakima Convention Center and Centerplate staff working the trade show

2013 Official Yakima Valley Visitors Guide Published

2013VguideCvrThe 2013 Yakima Valley Official Visitors Guide™ has been released. The full-color, 56-page guide covers the communities, events, attractions in the Yakima Valley, from Red Mountain to White Pass. It is a free publication of the Yakima Valley Visitors & Convention Bureau.

“What’s different about this guide is that everything was designed to have consistency in look and appearance,” stated John Cooper, President & CEO of the Yakima Valley Visitors & Convention Bureau. “From the advertisements to the community listings the design flows well. It reads more like a travel magazine than a typical visitors guide.”

The publication includes information and maps on the area’s wineries, produce stands and farmer’s markets, local heritage, festivals, outdoor adventure, dining, lodging, museums, the arts, entertainment, shopping, relocation and more.

To receive a free issue of the 2013 Yakima Valley Official Visitors Guide™ call (509) 575-3010, toll free (800) 221-0751, e-mail info@visityakima.com or stop by the Yakima Valley Visitors Information Center at 101 North Fair Avenue, off Interstate 82 in Yakima.  A digital version is available at www.visityakimavalley.org.

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Washington State Deserves a Tourism Program

When it comes to marketing a state for tourists, like sports you’re either in the game or you’re not. Washington State is not only out of the game, we’re nowhere near the parking lot.

In July 2011 the state tourism office was shut down due to budget constraints. Meanwhile, our surrounding states (and main competitors) expanded their tourism marketing. California and British Columbia each now have budgets exceeding $50 million. Oregon spends more than $12 million to lure visitors. Idaho is around $9 million. Any of the 50 states in the USA spend more than Washington to attract visitors.

Why do states invest in tourism promotion? Because it makes good business sense. Michigan recently invested $30 million in their tourism efforts and created 10,000 new jobs and $43.5 million in tax revenues. Conversely in 1993 Colorado eliminated its tourism office. Research showed that Colorado’s domestic visitor market plunged 30% within two years, representing a loss of over $1.4 billion in tourism revenue annually. Recognizing they were ‘out of the game’ and it was affecting their economy, the state starting funding a state tourism program some seven years later. But we can’t afford to wait seven years.

Tourism means jobs, new tax revenues and affects all regions of our state. Tourism is the fourth largest industry in Washington with nearly 150,000 jobs. Visitors spent $16.4 billion in 2011, generating more than $1.8 billion in state and local taxes. Yakima County is ranked 8th of the 39 counties in visitor spending with $350 million spent annually by visitors supporting more than 3,500 local jobs. Visitors also reduce your tax load. According to research conducted by Dean Runyan Associates of Portland, Washington families pay $400 less in taxes because of revenues generated by out-of-state visitors.

As the state tourism office closed the tourism industry formed the Washington Tourism Alliance (WTA) to move tourism forward for Washington. A primary focus of the organization has been to educate legislators, policy makers and business leaders of the importance of tourism for our economy, jobs and quality of life. We’ve been looking at the ways other states fund their tourism efforts. A favored model being considered involves having tourism industry sectors pay assessments that are pooled together to market the state. That’s how they do it in California and their program has been very successful. Getting industry support takes time (California took five years to pass their funding model).  In the meantime, WTA is asking for $1.9 million in ‘bridge’ funding from the legislature until a more stable funding source is developed.  This would cover website costs, postage to mail an industry funded visitor guide, a toll-free call center, research and some international marketing. Considering the average state tourism budget exceeds $14 million, that’s small change, but it’s a start in the right direction.

I am encouraged that Governor Inslee supports these efforts in his Working Washington Agenda and hope the legislature will also back this initiative to build tourism.

If Washington wants to be in the tourism game, we need to be all in and support an industry developed and industry driven tourism marketing program. Otherwise we will strike out.

John Cooper is the President and CEO of the Yakima Valley Visitors & Convention Bureau and serves on the board of the Washington Tourism Alliance representing Central Washington.

This was a guest editorial in the February 17th 2013 issue of the Yakima Herald Republic daily newspaper.

Yakima Valley Washington 2012 Tourism Report

The Yakima Valley Visitors & Convention Bureau (VCB) reports 2012 was a successful year for the organization in attracting and serving visitors.

In 2012 the Yakima Valley and the Tri-Cities VCBs assumed ownership and management of the Washington Wine Country marketing organization. In addition, the Yakima Valley VCB took the leadership role to expand the Alaska Airlines Taste and Tote program throughout the region. This program gives visitors three incentives to visit:  It allows visitors to check a case of wine free from Yakima, Pasco, or Walla Walla airports on Alaska Airlines; Enterprise Rent-A-Car waives rental car drop-off fees at these airports and visitors presenting an Alaska Airlines boarding pass at participating wineries receive waived tasting fees.

The Yakima Convention Center hosted 125,127 visitors during 494 event days in 2012 and brought in nearly $9 million to the local economy. Earned revenue hit an all-time high of just under $800,000.

Sports events continue to expand and grow, providing economic benefits and exposure for the Yakima Valley.  The Yakima Valley Sports Commission estimates the economic impact of sports tourism in the Yakima Valley was $33 million in 2012 (up 15% from 2011) and the number of sporting events held was 416 (up 8% from 2011). In addition, the Sports Commission launched Pirate Plunder Adventure Race, which welcomed 878 runners in its inaugural year.

The VCB’s website visityakimavalley.org had a total of 252,340 page views, a 19% increase over 2011 and a 52% increase over 2010.  The VCB launched a number of new marketing projects, including WineDoggies.com, a website dedicated to visitors who travel with their dogs. In September that program won a ab award from the Western Association of Convention & Visitors Bureaus.

Through VCB public relations efforts, 95 travel media placements and articles appeared about Yakima Valley with an advertising value exceeding $1.56 million.  The Yakima Valley Visitor Information center served 14,492 visitors and responded to more than 8,654 information requests via email and phone (up 31%).

A copy of their 2012 Annual Report can be found at http://budurl.com/12AnRep

The Yakima Valley Visitors & Convention Bureau is the official destination marketing organization for the Yakima Valley. Its mission is to stimulate economic development by marketing the Yakima Valley for conventions, groups and leisure travel.