Suit up, tourism is not a spectator sport


If you feel like you’ve been sitting in the stands, quietly observing and occasionally applauding the positive impact and economic momentum of the local visitor industry — it’s time to “suit up and play.” After all, whether you realize it or not, you are an integral part of the team.

To achieve success, tourism, like all team efforts, requires a solid structure with clearly defined goals, some rules to play by, dedicated team members and adequate resources. It’s also helpful to have knowledgeable coaches and enthusiastic fans who offer inspiration and perspective.

With its year-round recreational activities, accessibility and growing selection of attractions, Whatcom County’s tourism season encompasses the entire calendar. We are, however, approaching the playoffs of the visitor industry — the peak travel season — when competition for the traveling public and the dollars they infuse into a community, is at its highest.

Successful teams don’t shy away from their toughest competitors. They study the competition, identify their own as well as the other team’s strengths and weaknesses, and make adjustments. Let’s review our competitive position.


Outstanding Geographic Position

A recent survey co-authored by the Travel Industry Association (TIA) and Ypartnership reveals that about six out of 10 (59 percent) of Americans who are currently planning a trip with their car, truck or SUV this summer will not change their travel plans, regardless of escalating gas prices.

“The data confirm, once again, that vacations are a non-negotiable part of contemporary life, even in changing economic times,” said Peter Yesawich, Ypartnership’s CEO.

Even the remaining 41 percent of respondents indicated that while they won’t give up their vacation, they will drive a shorter distance. As a result, trips on a tank increasingly differentiate the destinations that will successfully attract a more distance-conscious traveler.

There are an estimated 4 million people living in the greater Seattle metropolitan area and another 2.2 million residents in Vancouver, BC and the lower mainland. Just these two markets represent 6.2 million potential visitors who can easily travel to and from Whatcom County on a tank of gas.


Outstanding Marketing Position

Washington State Tourism’s 2009/2010 Marketing Plan identifies “key travel trends” — most of which precisely mirror the primary competitive advantages leveraged through Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism’s marketing program, including shorter and more frequent trips, increasing Canadian opportunity, experiential travel, Web capabilities, geotourism, and proactive product development. In other words, we are able to deliver exactly what travelers have indicated they want.


Outstanding Team Members

This really is our strongest competitive strength. Conversely, if overlooked, it also represents our greatest potential weakness! Because regardless of our location, our infrastructure and amenities, our scenic beauty, agricultural and recreational bounty, and all the great places to stay and things to do, the success or failure of each visitor experience ultimately comes down to the very real but often indefinable way we make them feel.

Travel has become a non-negotiable part of our lives in part because of the long-term effect it has on our physical and mental well-being. Travel reduces the stress and monotony of our daily routines. It stimulates activity and creativity through new experiences. It provides opportunities for increased personal interaction — both with your travel companions as well as with the people you meet. It has even been shown to improve digestion since travelers tend to incorporate relaxed dining experiences as part of their vacation.

In essence, visitors are coming here to “borrow” the location and lifestyle they envy. They want to experience, temporarily, what we do! And, as Tourism Team members, our role is deceptively simple.

Smile. That’s an easy one — we already consistently do that.

Share. I know. It’s a little more difficult to share our trails, our beaches, our favorite restaurants, etc., but when you consider how much of the infrastructure we enjoy as residents is either developed or maintained through visitor-generated taxes, sharing becomes a little easier. And it’s a reciprocal relationship. They’ll share when you travel.

Suggest. Visitors truly do want to know the local secrets. Tell them about parks and programs, museums and markets, and other ideas that will help them have a more memorable experience. If you are stumped for suggestions, stop by our Visitor Information Center for maps, brochures, and guidebooks.

Service. Lots of places have mountains. Many have lakes and rivers, walking and hiking trails. They all have hotels, restaurants, and shops. I’m not trying to devalue our assets, simply to point out that it’s the combination of these assets — the sum of all our parts — that make us a desirable destination. Exemplary service, however, is what sets us apart from those other places who have mountains, lakes, and so on.

Support. Tourism is an indispensable part of our civic and economic vitality. Last year alone, the Bellingham-Whatcom County visitor industry generated 6,510 jobs. It also contributed $6.5 million in city and county taxes and $23.8 million in state tax receipts during the same time period. We can’t afford to take this important economic sector for granted. We need your continued support of tourism initiatives and participation of visitor industry programs.

We’ve got the playbook, we’ve got great coaches and players, and we’ve got the competitive advantage. We got game! We just need to get out there and play.


Loni Rahm is the president and CEO of Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism.

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