Cruise passengers urged to explore beyond Seattle

October 25, 2011

By Atia Musazay

From the Space Needle to Pike Place Market, Seattle has plenty to offer its guests, but the Washington Tourism Alliance and the Port of Seattle are encouraging cruise ship tourists to explore beyond the predictable city limits. They are hoping tourists will venture into the suburban and rural areas outside of Seattle, including Issaquah.

“It’s really about what can you offer as an attractive package as an add-on to the cruise purchase,” said Dan Trimble, then-economic development manager for the city of Issaquah. “We’re pretty fortunate here to have several things that can be easily compartmentalized to those packages.”

Bill Bryant

From the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery and Cougar Mountain Zoo, to outdoor opportunities and shopping districts, Issaquah has plenty to offer its tourists, Trimble said.

This is part of a plan carried out by the newly established Washington Tourism Alliance, which is working along with the Port of Seattle and other tourism agencies to let people know about the tourist opportunities that exist outside of Seattle.

“The cruise ship (industry) brings about $400 million to King County and the region, and that’s because the passengers are staying one to two nights in the area. But most of them are spending that time in downtown Seattle,” Seattle Port Commissioner Bill Bryant said.

He said he hopes the cruise ship tourists extend their stay and explore the surrounding areas, “whether that is wineries in Woodinville or going out to Snoqualmie Falls.”

The state Legislature recently cut funding for the state tourism office.

In its place, various stakeholders including the port, some of the hotel associations and some of the restaurant associations have established the WTA to serve as a vehicle for communities to reach out to tourists, Bryant said.

Jane Kuechle, executive director at Friends of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery, said she would be interested in working with the WTA along with other Issaquah attractions, such as the train depot, historical museums and Gilman Village, to bring cruise ship tourists to Issaquah as a package.

“We have not created any outreach or promotion with the cruise ship industry but are in the beginning stages of developing a plan to do just that,” Kuechle said.

There are also challenges for this suburban attraction.

“Past experience has shown us that the hatchery grounds can accommodate no more than 60 individuals at a time on tours,” she said. “Since all of our tours are conducted by volunteer tour guides, increasing the number of tours and taking on cruise groups is possible as long as we have volunteers available to do the tours.”

Bryant agreed that the WTA, the Port of Seattle and the communities all have to be involved to accommodate an influx of visitors into the suburbs.

Shopping sites for tourists include Gilman Village, made up of 40 specialty shops and restaurants, as well as Pickering Place, which includes Costco. Issaquah also features many outdoor opportunities, such as Lake Sammamish State Park and hiking trails on Cougar Mountain.

But there are also setbacks to the plan to bring tourists to the city. Aaran Barouh, general manager of Gilman Village, said tourism has declined significantly in the past decade.

“The decline in tourism was in direct proportion to the significant increase in Issaquah traffic congestion,” he said. “It doesn’t take long to figure out that a car trip to the suburbs, particularly on the weekends is not a fun experience.”

Barouh said that tourism has declined to the point that it is no longer a significant part of the Gilman Village business model.

The WTA and the port hope to reverse that trend. This involves determining which media people are using to find out about tourist spots.

Trimble said they have been using a website, www.discover-issaquah.com, and a visitor center to advertise opportunities to potential cruise ship tourists. The website showcases Issaquah as a perfect “base camp” for exploring the Northwest because of its central location, 15 miles from Seattle and in close proximity to the Cascade Mountains and the Issaquah Alps.

There are about 40,000 to 50,000 people whose jobs depend upon the condition of tourism in the state, Bryant said.

“It is a very important part of King County’s economy,” he said.

But tourism is important for more than just the dollars it brings into the city. Tourists also take away with them an impression of the community, Trimble said.

“It is very valuable for you to have a positive impression on people that will then go back to either their home country or home state and then say good things about you,” he said.

Atia Musazay was a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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