The tourism industry celebrated a very successful year in 2014, with hotel occupancies increasing by 6.5 percent and revenues growing by 9.3 percent over the previous year. As a result, there will be numerous hotel projects coming to fruition in 2015, adding new hotel brands for visitors to choose from. By the end of 2015, there will be 3,863 total guest rooms available in the Tri-Cities, an increase in supply of 14.9 percent. With more hotel rooms to fill, successful marketing programs designed to attract new visitors will be more important than ever.
Investing in cultivating a healthy tourism industry in the Tri-Cities is a sound strategy for growing the local economy. Each year, visitors spend $398.2 million in Benton and Franklin counties, supporting 5,200 jobs in the Tri-Cities and generating $31.6 million in state and local taxes. In order to increase visitor spending, it is important to market our region as the premier destination, not only for leisure travelers of varied interests, but also for meetings, conventions and sports groups.
Creating a strong community brand for the Tri-Cities, one that elevates the desirability of the Tri-Cities over every other destination in Eastern Washington, will support this goal. That is why Visit Tri-Cities, in partnership with the Tri-City Development Council and the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce, is leading the effort to introduce a new community brand, one that will promote the Tri-Cities as a brighter, bolder and better community, focusing on quality of life and unique visitor experiences found here.
There are a number of developments that will allow us to follow through on our brand promise of providing better, bolder attractions and quality of life. The recently passed federal legislation for the development of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park will have widespread and long-lasting effects on the number of visitors traveling into the region. Under the National Defense Authorization Act, the B Reactor and other Hanford historic sites, along with points of interest at Los Alamos, N.M., and Oakridge, Tenn., will soon become the Manhattan Project National Historical Park. The opening of the national park is expected to draw an additional 100,000 visitors each year to the region and boost international travel to the Tri-Cities.
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Wine tourism is also expected to have a bigger, bolder future. The highly-anticipated Washington State University Wine Science Center, the world’s most technologically-advanced wine research center, will focus on education and exploration of new and better practices for growing grapes and making wine. The facility will positively impact tourism by attracting students, scientists and journalists from around the world. In addition, the location of the Wine Science Center will legitimize the Tri-Cities as the true “Heart of Washington Wine Country.” The tourism industry will further benefit from the Port of Kennewick’s Columbia Gardens and Artisan Wine Village project, which will increase the wine production facilities available while providing a central gathering place for wine enthusiasts, and complement the Port of Benton’s successful Vintner’s Village in Prosser. Last fall, the Mid-Columbia Wine Tourism Council was formed. Visit Tri-Cities recognizes the importance of creating a cohesive message to promote and market the local wine industry as a wine tourism destination.
Family attractions are equally important in enticing new visitors, and the addition the Reach and the Carousel of Dreams will give families a reason to extend their stays. The Reach has welcomed 15,500 visitors since its opening in July, and the Carousel of Dreams offers visitors a touch of nostalgia.
In order to better promote the newly branded Tri-Cities and enhanced attractions, Visit Tri-Cities will be investing in a new website that will serve as a destination marketing portal to the outside world. The website will debut this spring and will feature enhanced visuals and include a mobile-friendly format.
With the implementation of community branding, unique attractions and upgraded technology, the future of travel and tourism in the Tri-Cities is truly brighter, bolder and better than ever before.