Business

Tri-City tourism staying strong

Wine, golf and outdoor attractions are helping attract visitors to the sunny Tri-Cities despite a nationwide crimp on travel budgets.

Instead of flying off to exotic locations, most people are exploring areas close to where they live, or a destination that they can afford, said Kris Watkins, president and chief executive officer of the Tri- Cities Visitor & Convention Bureau, which recently released its mid-year report.

In the first six months of the year, the Tri-Cities held 106 conventions and sporting events that brought thousands of people to the community, generating about $15.9 million.

The bureau staff helped create business leads that could translate into 26,228 room nights for local hotels, and secured 72 future conventions and sporting events that infused $9 million in direct visitor spending into the local economy, the report says.

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 such as Water Follies, Watkins said.

"Flat is good in this economy," she said, adding the Tri-Cities saw exceptional growth in tourism traffic from 2005-08.

Earlier in the year, the bureau launched an ad campaign along the Interstate 5 corridor to help draw visitors from the west side of the state, and partnered with the Yakima Valley Visitors and Convention Bureau and Washington Wine Country, to promote the area as a wine destination, Watkins said.

The bureau also printed and distributed 72,000 brochures highlighting "Great Golf Getaways" at various travel and golf shows. Since January, the bureau helped promote the Tri-Cities in more than 130 media stories.

"We've been called a romantic getaway, golf getaway, wine getaway and water getaway," said Megan Neer, director of marketing and public relations.

She said the bureau plans to use its freshly designed website, and social networking sites to keep up the momentum. The bureau has 200 followers on Twitter and about 2,500 fans on Facebook, she said.

The competition for travel dollars has become intense, said Neer and Watkins.

That means target marketing of the Tri-Cities and its special attractions -- water, weather and wine, Watkins said.

In the last few years, the bureau's financial and marketing support has helped sustain and promote Water Follies, the Tri-Cities' signature event, which brings in positive media exposure throughout the Northwest and nationally, she said.

B Reactor's new status as a National Historic Landmark also will help promote the region. The Tri-Cities is known for open spaces, easy road and air access, and the availability of two high-quality convention centers and comparatively affordable hotel rooms, she said.

Last year, the average room rent in Benton and Franklin counties ranged from about $66 a night to about $80. The number of available hotel rooms has gone up from about 2,200 in 1991 to more than 3,400 in 2009.

Watkins said a proposed convention center hotel adjacent to the Three Rivers Convention Center is welcome news. It'll mean the bureau will be able offer potential client a choice of a large block of guest rooms, instead of spreading out guests in hotels across the Tri-Cities.

-- Pratik Joshi: 582-1541; pjoshi@tricityherald.com; Business Beat blog at www.tricityherald.com

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