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Tourism alert: more good times ahead for the Rose City

36,000 Portlanders now work in the hospitality industry and 15 new hotels are underway.

COURTESY: TRAVEL PORTLAND - People will line up for ice cream  at all hours at Salt & Straw on Southeast Division Street, locals and tourists alike.

As if the Voodoo Doughnut line along Southwest Third Avenue didn't say it all, tourism is up again in Portland, according to the tourism marketing agency Travel Portland.

There were more than 8.9 million overnight visits to the metro area in 2016. Travel Portland presented its good news session at the Portland Marriott Downtown Waterfront on Tuesday, Feb. 28.

"Portland continues to see steady growth in travel and tourism," said Jeff Miller, president and CEO of Travel Portland.

"Travelers come here to experience things you can only see, do and eat in Portland," added Miller. "These visits are infusing critical capital into our local and state economies and allowing us to reinvest in what makes Portland a world-class destination, while positioning the region for further growth in 2017 and beyond."

Visitors spent $5.1 billion here in 2016, an increase of 2.9 percent from 2015. Overnight visitors who stay in a hotel/motel, on average, spend $233 per person, per day. The highest spenders (air travellers who stay in hotels and motels) spend, on average, $271 per person, per day.

New Portland attractions include:

Pine Street Market

Alternative hotels like Caravan, the Tiny House Hotel

The new Elephant Lands at the Oregon Zoo

Bars and urban wineries such as Teutonic and S.E. Wine Collective and distilleries such as New Deal and House Spirits.

The newly renovated and expanded Portland Japanese Garden is expected to be a big hit with tourists when the new Cultural Village open on April 1. It will have a bigger gift shop and ticket office.

PHOTO: ANDY SONWELL OF DOT DOT DASH - Carroll Rheem VP, Research and Analytics at Brand USA, which markets tourism to the US to the rest of the world, said that currency fluctuations are a huge factor in how many people come here. Portland should compete as an quirky experience destination rather than a entertainment one.

At the presentation Carroll Rheem VP, Research and Analytics at Brand USA showed an interesting PowerPoint slide, featuring some "squishy" research called the Ultimate Selfie. Brand USA asked foreigners to draw themselves having fun in the U.S. Brits wanted authentic experiences, such as Dollywood, roots music and tumbleweed.

"This is a why Portland is such a great fit for the UK market," she said, looking forward, as was everyone in the room, to the debut this May of direct Delta flights from London. The new narrow-bodied airplanes such as the Boeing Dreamliner have also stimulated global travel, as they enable airlines to offer better value flights.

Why do they love us?

Mexicans, in contrast, wanted the glitz of Vegas and shopping malls, with one entrant drawing himself surrounded by strippers.

"It's a very different energy, based on theme parks, roller coasters, partying and retail," she said. "So if I were to prioritize Portland for Mexico, I'd say not so high. They're looking for a very different experience."

Brand USA is paying attention to Mexico and thinking about which of the range of voices the U.S. can use. "Instead of (movie trailer voice) 'Hey come visit us,' we're welcoming influencers, Mexican travellers who have their own audiences and can deliver authentic real experiences in the voice that they can trust. Because right now we are challenged."

Central Portland hotels' occupancy rate downtown grew to 81.4 percent. Travel Portland's main metric is hotel room nights. And Portland continues to expand its hotel industry, with 15 under construction or approximately 2,000 new hotel rooms.

The new hotels include the Hyatt Regency Portland at the Oregon Convention Center which in 2020 will bring more than 600 new rooms to the city and better position Portland to compete for meetings and conventions.

COURTESY: TRAVEL PORTLAND - Ping pong is the golf of the tech world, hence the popularity of Pips & Bounce, a table tennis center on Southeast Belmont St. with decent food.

A Travel Portland spokesperson said in an email, "We have seen such high growth in the past few years in terms of occupancy and average daily rate, so we do expect some natural leveling off to occur as these hotels come online."

Tweaking the brand of Portland

Travel Portland is changing the way it markets the city in the USA, trying to expand to fill the coming new hotel rooms. (Hoteliers contribute greatly to Travel Portland's budget via taxes.) These are ads Portlanders won't see at home, but the new direction came after looking at other cities, spearheaded by Ajay Date, the recently hired VP of Marketing.

Traditionally Travel Portland advertises in Eugene, Bend, Seattle and Vancouver BC, featuring beer, doughnuts, MAX trains, a fanzine library and a giant cuckoo clock. But after analyzing "like minded" cities, "big guys" cities and "different experiences" cities (such as Dallas, Las Vegas, Phoenix and San Diego), they picked three targets.

The conclusion is Portland will now try to crack the Minneapolis, San Francisco and Phoenix markets.

Asked what they liked about Portland, people from those cities said Portland encourages individualism and an interest in the unusual. Someone else said it was "like an extended summer camp for 25 to 45 year olds."

Travel Portland's broad message will be: "Nothing you'll find here is made just for tourists. When people say they want to 'go where the locals go,' that's pretty much everywhere. There is no Statue of Liberty or Eiffel Tower. We don't have a Grand Canyon or a Hollywood sign or a Wrigley Field.'

COURTESY: TRAVEL PORTLAND - It's fine being a summer camp for 25- to 45-year-olds, but US tourism is vulnerable to a strengthening dollar as well as undiplomatic comments by the president.

The view from abroad

The Odnarotoop (Portland in Japanese backwards) campaign was declared a success, as thousands of consumers came to a pop up shop in Tokyo to hear about the quirky, laissez-faire Portland lifestyle.

With the rise of the Chinese middle class, Portland is hoping for some of that business. Steve Faulstick, EVP of Convention and Tourism Sales, announced that a huge win was that Portland will host the Active America China Summit for the first time, from April 22-26.

The city was also marketed in Oceania, with a Beervana tour of brewers to New Zealand, with a Portland versus Kiwi beer taste-off that ended diplomatically, in a tie.

"As a destination, we've grown up, and the type of business we're going after...in the last few weeks we've had discussions about the Women's NCAA final four, and the Men's NCAA, let's talk about the Sweet Sixteen, the NBA All Star Game, it's time!" Faulstick said Phil Knight's college basketball tournament this summer will be big, with media from around the world. As for snagging the Outdoor Retailer show, which showcases outdoor apparel and gear and is leaving Salt Lake City for somewhere more eco friendly, he said, "That represents three Superbowls a year," in terms of economic impact. But there needs to be enough hotel rooms to cope with the influx.

Travel Portland's marketing campaigns include the Tourism Improvement District (TID), in which city hotels with more than 50 rooms pay an assessment of 2 percent per night on all room revenues.

The money pays for sales, marketing and promotional efforts aimed at increasing hotel occupancy and visitor spending.

TID includes Portland's winter advertising campaign, luring people here in the slow season with the promise of craft beer, snowshoeing and tax-free shopping. TID is also behind Portland Dining Month

every March ($29 for a three course meal), the city's month-long

celebration of local restaurants.

COURTESRY: TRAVEL PORTLAND - While old favorites like the OMSI submarine are a safe bet, one tweet could sink us. With that in mind, Portland is trying to distinguish itself as a place that welcomes diversity and Travel Portland has published a statement to that effect.

Circumstances beyond our control: forex, Trump

The official, export-only Portland brand can be summed up as rock-climbing lumbersexuals installing deer antlers in their coffee shops while their sisters sell naked bike ride tattoo art on Etsy. But for all the self congratulation about how well this home grown brand plays in London, Tokyo and New York, Carroll Rheem VP, Research and Analytics at Brand USA had some sobering data about the 94 million people who visited the U.S. in 2014. A weak dollar brings them in, a strong dollar keeps them away.

When the Canadian dollar dipped, so did visits to the USA by double-digit percentages. Usually, however, when a currency goes down by 5 to 10 percent against the dollar that's when people start putting off trips here.

The Brazilian real fell 75 percent against the dollar in late 2015, and visits from Brazil fell by 25 percent.

Historically, only Mexico has no correlation. Their visits do not dip when the Mexican peso plummets.

Right now Brand USA is most concerned about the Mexican peso, followed by the UK pound. However that has a side effect in the competitive global marketplace. A Brit thinking of going somewhere warm in winter will find Mexico 40 percent cheaper than it was last year and Florida 20 percent more expensive.

Rheem at Brand U.S. talked about the job of reaching out to the rest of the world to entice people to visit the U.S. (The U.S. is the world's number one travel destination.) The bulk of foreign visitors here come from Canada and Mexico, followed by the UK and Japan, but China is on the rise. (In fact, Japan dropped of a little as their yen fell, while Chinese tourists to the U.S. have increased.

She explained a little about her Brand USA works.

"Our job is to plan for the future, we look three years ahead. From a marketing science perspective, how much do we want to focus on reach versus influence. The world is a crazy place, right now our forecasts are not very reliable, there are so many question marks, in particular, because travel is an emotional decision, its not just about economic and consumer confidence."

Rheem warned that the rosy outlook could change in a minute due to unforeseen circumstances.

"We have challenging times, we have a president who is grabbing headlines around the world and it pushes people into polarized opinions. We are cautious and we are careful and we try to be as thoughtful as we can to the local perspective."


Joseph Gallivan
Reporter

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