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

Yakima Valley Tourism Holds 2016 Annual Meeting

20160525_101811Yakima Valley Tourism (YVT) held its Annual Meeting today at the Yakima Convention Center. Featured speaker was Mark Bocchi, Managing Director of Sales and Community Marketing for Alaska Airlines. He gave an update on the airline, including their re-branding and their recent purchase of Virgin America.

In addition, YVT CEO John Cooper gave a fifteen minute program on the Rotary International Vocational Training trip he led this spring to Australia. In celebration of that, the luncheon had a ‘down under’ theme with decor and music. Around 120 people attended the event.

Here are a few pictures from the meeting.

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Yakima Valley Garners Media Exposure

One of our roles at Yakima Valley Tourism is to court, host and tour lifestyle and travel media to Yakima and the Valley. We’ve had a busy time of late, and here are just a few of the results from our efforts:

For a complete look at the media Yakima and the Yakima Valley have received in recent months, check our Media Page on our website.

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 Tourism Awarded 2015 Tourism Champion by the Washington State Wine Commission

WSWA 2015 Black LogoWashington State Wine awarded Yakima Valley Tourism the 2015 Tourism Champion of the Year at the Washington State Wine Awards in Seattle Monday January 26th.

“We are honored to be recognized as Tourism Champion of the Year,” said John Cooper, President & CEO of Yakima Valley Tourism. “The team at Yakima Valley Tourism works hard to elevate wine tourism for the Yakima Valley and to champion our exceptional wine industry.”

Started in 2002, the awards recognize industry leaders that exhibit strong support of Washington wines and high professional standards in wine service and promotion. According to Washington State Wine, the Washington State Restaurant, Retailer and Tourism Champion of the Year are the most prestigious awards, recognizing industry leaders who show the strongest support for Washington State wine. More than 130 nominations were received for the 2015 awards.

“The winners of the Washington State Wine Awards perform a vital role in shaping Washington State as both a favored destination and a favored home for those who enjoy premium wines with superior quality,” said Steve Warner, President of Washington State Wine.

The 15 businesses and individuals recognized as leaders by the Washington State Wine Awards will be featured in a full-page ad in eight key publications and media outlets: Food & Wine, Travel &Leisure, Town & Country, Seattle Met, Elle Décor, Real Simple, Sip Northwest, SeattleTimes.com as the 2015 Washington State Wine Tour Guide.

Yakima Valley Tourism is the official destination marketing organization for Yakima and the Yakima Valley. A non-profit organization, the mission of Yakima Valley Tourism is to stimulate economic development by marketing the Yakima Valley for conventions, groups and leisure travel.

Washington State Wine (also known as the Washington State Wine Commission) represents every licensed winery and wine grape grower in Washington State. Guided by an appointed board, the commission provides a marketing platform to raise positive awareness of the Washington State wine industry and generate greater demand for its wines.

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 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.

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