City, chamber get tourism guidance
April 8, 2014
By Peter Clark
How can Issaquah attract more visitors?
That questions lies at the heart of a burgeoning effort by the city’s Economic Development Department and the Issaquah Chamber of Commerce. The “kickoff” for the effort was delivered March 31 by local tourism guru Roger Brooks.
“For more than 30 years, he has worked to change ordinary places to extraordinary destinations,” chamber CEO Matt Bott said, introducing the keynote speaker.
Brooks, CEO and president of Roger Brooks International, gave a two-hour presentation about how Issaquah could bring more visitors to town and what the city continues to do wrong. A crowd gathered at Pickering Barn to hear the man who has a history of revitalizing a number of locations across North America.
“Tourism is the purest form of economic development,” Brooks said. “People come, spend money, then go home.”
Issaquah needs to identify a primary draw, he said. The city cannot advertise itself as a catchall for everything.
“What do you stand for besides Salmon Days?” he asked. “Location is always going to be second to the primary draw. You cannot say you have something for everyone. You can’t be all things to anyone and win anymore.”
He said multiple times that Issaquah needs to find a niche to attract visitors, who can then stay for the many other local attractions.
“The narrower your focus, the stronger your success will be,” Brooks said. “Salmon Days does put you on the map, but how will you get people here for the rest of the year?”
Brooks’ message came from personal experience — he said he lives just six miles from Pickering Barn. From that proximity, he said he has an understanding of how much Issaquah has to offer and also how much Issaquah can frustrate visitors.
“Here’s my biggest pet peeve with Issaquah: You can’t find a damn thing in this town,” he said with a smile. “We have lived in your neighborhood for seven years and we avoid it because we cannot find anything.”
The chamber contracted with Roger Brooks International in January, with funding assistance from the city.
“The city has given $5,000 from our department budget, plus the $15,000 in Lodging Tax Advisory Committee funds, as originally recommended by the Lodging Tax Advisory Committee,” city Economic Development Manager Andrea Lehner said. “The rest of the money and labor for this project is coming from the chamber.”
City Economic Development Department Director Keith Niven said the presentation served as a way to get the conversation started as the city and the chamber begin working with Brooks to enhance Issaquah’s tourism.
“The purpose is really to determine a tourism business plan for Issaquah,” Niven said. “We expect to come out of this with recommendations on how to proceed and how to pay for it. Monday was a way to get people thinking about tourism and what it could mean for Issaquah.”
Lehner said the contract requires a final presentation of recommendations by July.
“It truly is a great partnership between the city and the chamber, and very similar to what you see so many other communities work on since the return on investment is so powerful,” Bott wrote in an email. “It’s not just for businesses but for nonprofit organizations to net new tax revenue, and not to mention general community pride.”
Before any of that can occur, the consultants need to spend some time getting to know the city.
“We have a process under way and the next stop is for Roger Brooks, or one of his team, to meet with the stakeholders and make sure they understand the lay of the land,” Niven said. “And ultimately, they can come up with some recommendations to deliver to the community.”
Those recommendations began early. As a first step to inviting more people into the city and keeping them coming back, Brooks said in the March 31 presentation that Issaquah should invest in way-finding signage.
“This should be a priority for you,” Brooks said. “It’s an investment, not an expense. We’ve seen you promote your farmers market, but we’ve never been to it because we don’t know how to find it.
“Issaquah, you’re a great city, but you don’t have any focus out there,” Brooks said. “You have so much going for you, but you know what, what’s your focus?”
He said the way forward is wide open for the city to provide a viable destination for the millions who reside nearby.
“You do live within an hour and a half of 3 1/2 million people,” Brooks said. “Wouldn’t it be great if they spent a little more time in Issaquah?”