Why Yakima Needs to Improve Its Convention Infrastructure

The meetings and convention market is a crucial part of our local tourism industry and economy. It’s also important to other cities around the Pacific Northwest. Yakima competes with these cities to attract meetings. If we are to be successful in bringing and keeping conventions, we must maintain and improve our convention and hospitality infrastructure. If we don’t, we risk losing millions of dollars in revenue, taxes and jobs created by the convention industry.

Meeting planners review many factors when choosing a city to hold their event: location, costs, support infrastructure, surrounding attractions, activities, etc.  A recent survey of 398 U.S. planners conducted by the Kliman Group and Fulcrum found that the top three “destination strength elements that contribute to destination appeal” when choosing a city are lodging, air service and meeting assets (e.g. convention center). Yakima is largely a drive-to destination and while the City has made great strides in improving air service, it’s currently not a major factor for convention planners in our market. Quality lodging and the convention center, however, are crucial factors. The Yakima Convention Center has a stellar reputation for service, plus has had significant improvements since it was built. We must, however, do more if we are to remain competitive.

According to data we track, the primary reason for cancellations and groups not booking the Yakima Convention Center is due to a scheduling conflict with another group for the center (31%). The second most common reason was a lack of meeting or exhibit space for dates group desired (28%), followed by groups opting for a self- contained location, specifically at a hotel (20%). Collectively, these three reasons account for nearly 80% of lost convention business.

There is growing concern among current and past clients regarding the perceived lack of space at the center. Some of these groups have chosen other venues instead of the Yakima Convention Center, including Spokane and Tri-Cities, while others indicate they are on the verge of outgrowing the current Yakima facilities.

In 2015, the City of Yakima, with the support and involvement of the Yakima Public Facilities District, commissioned Kidder Mathews to conduct a market study on our convention center, lodging facilities and to assess competing markets. The researchers involved in the study have extensive experience in hotel and convention center analysis. Their study recommended that market conditions warrant an additional 51,000 square foot exhibit hall. As stated in their report, “By adding a dedicated exhibit hall to the Yakima Convention Center Campus, the city would create a definite competitive advantage over both Kennewick and Wenatchee. With the exception of the Spokane exhibit hall, Yakima would be the only facility with true exhibit space…. It would distinguish the new facility from alternative options in the competitive markets.”

The new exhibit hall would also increase the center’s scheduling flexibility, improving our ability to host multiple events and organizations concurrently. The added space would also allow the center’s sales team to target organizations that have outgrown the existing facilities. Both advantages would support efforts to recapture lost business due to capacity and scheduling, which accounts for 58% of total defectors.

Davenport Grand Hotel in Spokane, WA

Davenport Grand Hotel in Spokane, WA

Likewise, our headquarter lodging needs to be addressed. Last year, Spokane welcomed a new headquarter tower hotel connected to their convention center with more than 700 guest rooms, 60,000 square feet of meeting space and a parking garage. In the Tri-Cities, a new SpringHill Suites opened last summer, also connected to their convention center. In Wenatchee, the City recently sold land to a developer to build a 170 plus room Hilton Garden Inn along the waterfront next to an existing walkway to their convention center. These are our three main competitors.  We are losing conventions to these cities because of the condition and age of our headquarter hotel. Kidder Mathews recommends building a new headquarter hotel to replace the aging Red Lion. A number of scenarios and locations around the Yakima Convention Center Campus are being evaluated. Other possible hotel plans in the city core could have a bearing on the final configuration for the project.

Currently we are working with the City to secure an architectural firm to estimate costs and develop renderings of a center addition and headquarter hotel. This would help show what the vision could look like and assist us in advancing the project.

The Yakima Convention Center is a cornerstone in the health and vitality of Yakima. It currently pumps more than $11 million into the local economy. It brings visitors and locals to the city center, generates activity for partner facilities plus increases customers for businesses and attractions across the community.

I hope you will join me to work with the community, private and public sectors to ‘raise the bar’ and upgrade our convention amenities.

John Cooper

Yakima Valley Tourism

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Yakima Valley Tourism Launches “Bring It Home” Campaign

bringItHomeYakima-logoConcepts3Yakima Valley Tourism has launched a campaign to bring more convention and group business to Yakima. “Bring It Home Yakima” is aimed at getting local citizens and groups to invite, attract and host their state and regional events in Yakima.

“Often it takes local people who are involved in their trade and personal interest groups to help bring their conferences to town,” stated John Cooper, President  & CEO of Yakima Valley Tourism. “This campaign is designed to encourage and help them to do just that.”

Cooper cites there are many groups and organizations that local residents belong to including trade and professional associations, sporting groups plus hobby, religious, military and fraternal organizations. “All of them have meetings, tourneys and events so let’s bring them to Yakima,” he stated.

To assist residents in this effort, Yakima Valley Tourism has built a website www.BringItHomeYakima.com  that contains resources, assistance provided by the organization and a simple form for people to fill out to be contacted. “Just let us know what groups you’re involved in and we’ll be in touch to see how together we can bring their events to town,” Cooper stated.

2015 Yakima Valley Travel Guide Released

2015 Travel Guide CoverThe 2015 Yakima Valley Official Travel Guide™ has been released and is proving to be very popular. The full-color, 64-page guide covers the communities, events and attractions in the Yakima Valley area, from Red Mountain to White Pass. It is the official visitors guide for the region and a free publication of Yakima Valley Tourism.

The publisher and writer for the guide this year is Marcus Yearout of VGP Destination Marketing, who was born and raised in Wapato, WA.  “Marcus was able to give a personal view of the Valley and has a great storytelling style of writing,” stated John Cooper, President & CEO of Yakima Valley Tourism.

The guide includes information on the area’s wineries and craft beverages, produce stands and farmer’s markets, local heritage, festivals, outdoor adventure, dining, lodging, museums, entertainment, shopping and relocation.

To receive a free issue of the 2015 Yakima Valley Official Travel Guide™ Yakima Valley Tourism asks locals residents to stop by the Yakima Valley Visitor Information Center at 101 North Fair Avenue, off Interstate 82 in Yakima. Out of town folks can order a guide to be mailed by calling toll free (800) 221-0751 or by e-mail info@yakimavalleytourism.com . A digital version of the travel guide can be viewed at this link.

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.

Yakima Valley Featured in National Geographic Book on Dog Travel

Dog Lovers coverNational Geographic Books has released The Dog Lover’s Guide to Travel which includes dog friendly businesses, attractions and outdoor areas in 75 pet-friendly cities and regions across the United States and Canada. The Yakima Valley is one of six communities in the Pacific Northwest featured in the book.

 The Dog Lover’s Guide to Travel was written by Kelly E. Carter, a New York Times best-selling author and pet travel expert for AOL’s Paw Nation and Elite Traveler. In each destination Carter highlights pet offerings including hotels, parks, pet shops and pet friendly businesses. Features of the book include walks to take with your dog, insider tips from local pet owners and sidebars detailing opportunities for people with a dog in tow.

Yakima Valley Tourism approached Carter in early 2013 as the book was being developed. In 2012 the tourism office had created WineDoggies.com, an award winning program developed to assist visitors traveling with their dogs to the Yakima Valley. “When we found out she was writing this book we knew the Yakima Valley was the right fit,” stated John Cooper, President & CEO of Yakima Valley Tourism. “We enjoyed working with Ms. Carter and are honored our community was included.”

WineDoggies.com provides pet-friendly businesses and must-see stops in the region. It also includes a ‘Doggie Bloggie’ hosted by a local canine, an interactive map of 50 plus dog-friendly businesses with open-pet policies and a section where dog-friendly businesses and guests can add pictures and stories of their dogs enjoying Washington’s wine country. In addition to featuring the Wine Doggies website, the book highlights numerous Yakima Valley walking and hiking trails, local pet services, dog friendly wineries and pet events.

The other Northwest cities included in the book are Seattle, Portland, Bend, Coeur d’Alene and Missoula. The Dog Lover’s Guide to Travel can be found at local bookstores,  Amazon.com and National Geographic’s online bookstore.

Yakima Valley Tourism Awards Luncheon

Pat_Casual (2) We’re off to the races with our next Tourism Awards Luncheon! Adopting a Kentucky Derby theme, there will be lots of springtime fun. Our Master of Ceremonies and speaker will be Pat Cashman, Seattle comedian and television personality. Many will remember Pat when we brought him here in 2008 as our “Tourism Party” Presidential “candidate” for our annual lunch. The reviews were stellar!

Pat Cashman has been a broadcast performer and writer for more than twenty years. Along the way, he has been a TV weatherman, talk show host, stand-up comedian, short story writer, newspaper columnist, TV sports reporter, radio and TV voiceover announcer—and character voice talent in cartoons and video games. He is the announcer on Nintendo’s “Super Smash Bros”—currently the most popular video game in the world.

He was a featured performer, writer and producer on the Seattle-based sketch TV show “Almost Live!”—a program that was syndicated nationally and appeared for two years on the Comedy Central network. For his work on that show—and other TV efforts from performing to writing, directing to editing—Cashman has won dozens of Northwest Emmys, advertising awards, radio honors and medallions from the International Film and TV Festival of New York.  He’s now working on KING 5 TV’s  The (206), poking fun at all things Seattle and beyond. Check it out here!

A highlight of the program will be the awarding of the Tourism Business of the Year Award and Tourism Person of the Year Award.

Keeping with the Kentucky Derby theme, we’ll be giving away prizes for the best derby hats so we encourage participants to come with their wildest and most colorful hats! We’ll also be doing  a “horse race” like you’ve never seen before!

Details:

When: April 30th, 11:45 a.m

Where: Yakima Convention Center, 10 North 8th Street Downtown Yakima

Cost: $27 per person

RSVP by April 23rd: laura@yakimavalleytourism.com

Cancellations after April 23 and “no shows” will be invoiced.

509-575-3010 or 800-221-0751

SPONSORS: Charter Business,  Greater Yakima Chamber of Commerce, Hilton Garden Inn, Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express,  Horizon Distribution Inc., Miller & Associates Wealth Management LLC, Ron’s Coins & Collectibles, Tree Top, Inc., Treveri Cellars and the Yakima Valley Hotel and Conference Center.

Yakima Valley Tourism Releases New Visitors Guide

vguideThumbnail2014The 2014 Yakima Valley Official Visitors Guide™ has been released. The full-color, 60-page guide covers the communities, events and attractions in the Yakima Valley region, from Red Mountain to White Pass. It is a free publication of Yakima Valley Tourism.

 “What’s different about the guide is that it’s designed to have a consistent look,” stated John Cooper, President & CEO of Yakima Valley Tourism. “From the advertisements to the city listings the design flows well. It reads more like a travel magazine than a typical visitors guide.”

The guide includes information on the area’s wineries, produce stands and farmer’s markets, local heritage, festivals, outdoor adventure, dining, lodging, museums, arts, entertainment, shopping, relocation and more. New additions include the Spirits and Hops Trail and Wine Doggies programs.

To receive a free issue of the 2014 Yakima Valley Official Visitors Guide™ call (509) 575-3010, toll free (800) 221-0751, e-mail info@yakimavalleytourism.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.yakimavalleytourism.com.

Yakima Valley Tourism Professional Recognized For Wine Tourism Efforts

WA State Wine Tourism Award 2014John Cooper, President & CEO of Yakima Valley Tourism, was presented the 2014 Tourism Concierge of the Year Award by the Washington State Wine Commission in recognition of his service to the wine industry and wine tourism.

Started in 2002 by the Washington Wine Commission, the Washington State Wine Awards acknowledges industry leaders that exhibit strong support of Washington wines and high professional standards in wine service. The Tourism Concierge Award recognizes an individual that represents the tourism or wine industry with the highest professional standards, serves as an example to peers and a mentor for new tourism industry professionals, advances the wine tourism industry as a whole and advocates for its causes.

“I am honored to have been nominated and selected,” Cooper stated. “I give credit to our staff at Yakima Valley Tourism and the wineries in the valley. They also deserve recognition for all they do to advance wine tourism.”

The mission of Yakima Valley Tourism is to stimulate economic development by marketing the Yakima Valley for conventions, groups and leisure travel. Cooper has been with organization since 2007.

Yakima Valley Visitors & Convention Bureau Changes Name

The agency responsible for developing and marketing tourism for the Yakima Valley will be doing business under a new name. Effective today, the Yakima Valley Visitors & Convention Bureau will be doing business as Yakima Valley Tourism. The change resulted from a board retreat last year as the organization made future plans for tourism in the region.

Yakima Valley Tourism made the announcement today at the Yakima Convention Center where it presented updates and issues facing the local, state and national tourism industries to the public.

“The new name is easier to remember, better reflects our mission and coincides with the launch of our six-year strategic plan,” stated John Cooper, President & CEO. “Our organization is responsible for all facets of tourism including conventions and groups, visitor services, sports and leisure travel. Tourism is an inclusive word for all sectors of the industry.”

The main website to promote Yakima Valley will be www.yakimavalleytourism.com

Yakima Valley Tourism is a non-profit trade association. It has been known as Yakima Valley Visitors & Convention Bureau since forming in 1957.

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.