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What exactly is a tourist, anyway?

by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Fun In The Park and other events bring thousands of people to Wilsonville for day trips. Now the city is trying to attract tourists in a variety of new ways. It didn’t take long Oct 24 before the scale of the task became apparent to the newly minted Wilsonville Tourism Strategy Development Task Force.

After all, marketing a commercial hub like Wilsonville as a tourist attraction is going to take a combination of careful research, amenities and sufficient resources to ensure that needed infrastructure is in place. And doing that will require the collaborative efforts of public and private agencies and companies across the board.

But first, the task force must ascertain what types of attractions are most feasible in terms of attracting visitors to Wilsonville. The city cannot be everything to everyone, and some hard choices about where to put finite resources must be made in coming years.

“The greatest challenge we face in this project and in all projects we’re working on with communities is prioritization,” consultant Bill Baker of Tualatin firm Total Destination Marketing recently told the task force. “We have limited resources.”

The most recognizable public face of Wilsonville these days probably belongs to a horse, and the growing popularity of equestrian events and businesses ensures this will be a focal point of any future promotional campaigns.

After that? There are sporting events, cycling and agri-tourism. There also are a host of cultural attractions, while a large number of business travelers make overnight stays. All spend time in Wilsonville, and all spend money in local businesses.

“We’re just looking to see what might be possible, basically taking photographs and putting the label in — that’s what we’re doing,” Baker said.

The planning process involved in nailing down a workable tourism development strategy is only beginning, and is likely to last through next April, when a final report and recommendations will be presented to the Wilsonville City Council for approval.

But it’s likely to involve plenty of disagreement and a lot of guesswork.

“Some of this is going to be gut feel,” Baker said. “We don’t have the depth of data or research to support a lot of it.”

Which is one of the unique things about the tourism and hospitality industry. Compared to many others, Baker told the task force, businesses in this field have a relatively slim grasp on their clientele.

In part, that is because traditional tourism has emphasized place over experience. But that is changing rapidly, Baker said.

Today, more and more people are looking for an experience to make the focal point of their visit. Whether it’s a sports tournament, rafting trip on the Willamette River or a bicycle tour of wine country, it’s the activity that counts.

“What is there to do in Wilsonville?” consultant John Hope-Johnstone asked rhetorically. “That’s one of the top things. Twenty years ago the big question was, ‘What is there to see?’ Now, we’ve become much more doers than simply looking at stuff from a tour bus.”

That’s the approach Washington County currently takes to market itself, said task force member Carolyn McCormick, CEO of the Washington County Visitors Association.

“The way we strategically market Washington County is behavioral,” McCormick said at the Oct. 24 meeting. “You’re looking at certain people’s behaviors, and we continually test that data.”

A tourist is defined for purposes of the task force as people who have traveled more than 50 miles from their homes to visit or are staying overnight in the community they are visiting.

“That’s our priority target,” Baker said, “and those who stay overnight in particular.”

The task force is next scheduled to meet at 1:30 p.m. Nov. 12 at Wilsonville City Hall. This gathering will examine the use of digital marketing and social media to draw tourists.



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