KENNEWICK -- Showcasing the Tri-Cities to visitors has been a mission of the Tri-Cities Visitor & Convention Bureau since its inception in 1969.
And tourism pioneers in the area need to be recognized for helping build the momentum for growth, said Kris Watkins, president and CEO of the bureau, at the bureau's annual meeting Thursday at Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick. They showed "passion, endurance, loyalty, vision and strength," she said, paying tribute to early leaders who worked hard to make the Tri-Cities a travel destination.
The bureau, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary, has over the years worked with local cities, port districts and private businesses to expand the range of events and activities in the Tri-Cities for visitors, and also to create a sense of the place, Watkins said.
Promoting the wine industry and enhancing the river shoreline have been an integral part of the effort, she said.
That has resulted in an annual tourism spending of more than $367 million in the Tri-Cities that helps sustain 4,410 jobs in the community, Watkins said, adding the bureau plans to buildon that. "Tourism is economic development."
The key word to get out to potential visitors is that the Tri-Cities offers easy access to wineries, golf courses and outdoor attractions, particularly the Columbia River, Watkins said. That would strike a chord with many, especially during the current economic slowdown that's forcing people to take "staycations" instead of flying to exotic destinations, she said.
At a time when most places are seeing a decline in the number of visitors, the Tri-Cities is fortunate to have in- and out-of-state visitors coming for pleasure or business trips or to attend conventions and sporting events, Watkins said. By year end, an estimated 70,000 guest rooms will be booked, she said. The goal is to increase hotel bookings to 76,000 rooms nights next year, she said.
"We're another marketing arm for the wine industry," Watkins said. The bureau helped organize the first-ever wine tourism forum in the Tri-Cities in 1998, and has since enhanced its efforts to promote wine tourism with the help of travel/wine writers and its newly designed website. It's about building awareness, she said.
The bureau, which has more than 600 members, also pushed for lowering the levies and helped complete the 23-mile Sacagawea Heritage Trail, Watkins said. The idea is to highlight the Columbia River and promote the Tri-Cities as a waterfront community, she said. Relatively lower costs of accommodations and golf course fees are another plus to attract potential visitors, she said. "We are still one of the best deals for weekend getaways in the Pacific Northwest."
-- Pratik Joshi: 582-1541; firstname.lastname@example.org; Business Beat blog at www.tricityherald.com