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Priorities a key if Wilsonville is to become a destination


by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Some tourism task force members would like to see any new tourism organization focus more on equestrian events going forward as a means of marketing the city. Others would like to see a broader range of priorities. If Wilsonville can whittle down its list of potential tourist draws to a mere two or three, it stands a much better chance of establishing the city as a draw for people from around Oregon and beyond.

If the city spreads its efforts too thinly, however, it runs the risk of wasting a lot of time and resources in essentially maintaining the status quo.

“There was a concern that maybe we weren’t prioritizing as well as we could in order to focus,” city Government and Public Affairs Coordinator Mark Ottenad said April 24 at the final meeting of Wilsonville’s citizen-led tourism strategy development task force.

Ottenad was referring to concerns raised a little more than two weeks previously by city councilors uncertain over the direction of the task force after nearly seven months of work. One of the key points raised during that April 7 council work session was the need for prioritization of the efforts of both the task force, as well as any future tourism promotion organization working to implement task force recommendations.

At the April 24 meeting, however, task force members were able to take what had been a somewhat contentious gathering and turn it into a final draft document that will head to the city council for iconsideration on May 5.

“This was very helpful in clarifying where our priorities should be,” Ottenad said, outlining a list of changes that were made to a draft strategy document being crafted by consulting firm Total Destination Marketing of Tualatin. The document calls for the creation of a non-profit direct marketing organization dedicated specifically to tourism promotion in Wilsonville. That group could be public or private, but would have an independent board of directors and would focus its energies on promoting equestrian events and infrastructure, bicycling, events and conventions and other core areas named in the strategy as Wilsonville’s main attractions.

At the heart of the task force discussion, however, were changes to the draft strategy’s mission and vision statements. They may seem short, broad and sometimes overly aspirational, but the statements outlining the raison d’être of any organization serve to guide its direction and function. Wilsonville is no different, and particularly when it comes to the creation of an industry out of whole cloth, in this case tourism, where none existed previously.

“You do need to have the vision, whether you’re a company or a city,” said task force member Carolyn McCormick, who serves as president of the Washington County Visitors Association and has long experience in the field of tourism promotion. “We as a community must have not just the public will, but the political will to have the strength to move us forward. So the two words in this vision I’m uncomfortable with are ‘competing’ and becoming a ‘leading destination.’ Managing expectations is important, because there is a reality.”

As originally formulated by consultants Bill Baker, Bruce Dickson and others, the vision statement read as follows:

“In 2023, Wilsonville is a welcoming, family-friendly city competing successfully as one of Oregon’s leading destination cities, investing in its tourism, meetings, leisure and recreation strengths, amenities and services to provide compelling year-round experiences.”

McCormick and others suggested the term “premier” be substituted for “leading,” along with other semantic changes that more precisely outline where the task force hopes to go in the future.

“The ‘leading’ one did concern me,” agreed task force member Darren Harmon, general manager of Wilsonville’s Family Fun Center and Bullwinkle’s Restaurant. “We’re never going to be Portland or the mountain.”

This view was widespread. A lack of realism in the vision statement could be a long-term hindrance, suggested Danielle Cowan, executive director of Clackamas County Tourism and Cultural Affairs.

“In my opinion, being a ‘leading destination’ city, while a noble goal is probably not attainable when you look at some of the competition that’s out there,” Cowan said. “If it’s not believable to your partners and your community it loses some of your inspirational appeal.”

In the end, the task force believes it has found a happy medium, however, and voted by consensus to send a revised draft strategy document to the city council for consideration at that body’s upcoming May 5 meeting.