Two ad strategies ratchet up the cheer

'Big Deal' ads ensure that there's no gloom at downtown inns

The general economic gloom certainly didn't help Portland retailers this season. But two promotions aimed at brightening the winter holidays apparently provided some financial cheer.

During the holidays, downtown Portland glittered with extra lighting and a variety of special events as a three-year, $3.6 million marketing campaign funded by the Association for Portland Progress got under way. Its message Ñ 'I'd rather be downtown. Portland' Ñ has been splashed across the media for several weeks.

John Czarobski, the association's public relations manager, says the campaign 'served as a good reminder to folks to connect with the heart of the city.'

'We've heard many folks say that, especially after 9-11, they've enjoyed the feeling of community and togetherness downtown and seeing the traditional holiday tree lighting, window decorations, all the trees lit along the streets.'

As a result, he says, 'it seems things are going slightly better with the downtown core over what the region has been seeing.'

Czarobski backs his assertion with numbers: The association tracked downtown activity with weekend traffic counts, beginning in mid-November and ending Dec. 23. In five of the six Smart Park garages the association manages, the totals were 9 percent higher than they were during the same six weekends last year.

'That not only is an increase over 2000 but also represents the greatest amount of activity through the garages over the holiday time frame since APP took over management of those garages in the late 1980s,' he says.

At Lloyd Center, spokeswoman Rosemary White says her conversations with some of the mall's 200 merchants suggest that Christmas season sales there were 'a little bit less than the previous year but not as bad as expected.'

Final holiday sales figures won't be available until about the end of January, White says.

'The most satisfying, extraordinary thing was the day after Christmas,' she says. 'A lot of people must have had the day off Ñ we had a lot of traffic, a lot of shoppers. They were doing the usual exchange or return, but also I think a lot of shopping. There were a lot of good sales on that day.'

By midafternoon Lloyd Center's parking, with spaces for 6,000 cars, 'was maxed out to capacity,' according to White. That's particularly notable because many of the mall's customers travel there by light rail.

A 'Big Deal' campaign

The other business booster is the Portland Oregon Visitors Association's Big Deal campaign.

'There's absolutely no doubt about it, it's creating a positive impact,' says Craig Thompson, general manager of the 5th Avenue Suites Hotel in downtown Portland.

A series of wisecracking newspaper advertisements promoting the campaign has been running in cities along the Interstate 5 corridor from Puget Sound to the Willamette Valley. One says, 'Our Response to Winter? Big Deal.'

The campaign offers deeply discounted rates at about two dozen Portland hotels.

The program, in place from Oct. 1 to May 31, is attractive both to hotel operators, who get more bookings at a time of year when occupancy rates typically fall, and to visitors, who can stay at hotels for far less than they would ordinarily have to pay. Big Deal double-occupancy room rates, which also include continental breakfast and free parking, run from $69 to $139 a night.

Travelers can book their reservations online. Besides breakfast and free parking, they also receive a collection of vouchers and discounts for area attractions, shopping offers at Lloyd Center and Pioneer Place and a 25 percent discount on Amtrak round trips to Portland or a 10 percent discount on travel with Southwest Airlines.

Gretchen Heilshorn, communications and public relations manager for the visitors association, says about 5,200 people booked reservations through the Big Deal program last year. In 2001, the fourth year for Big Deal, numbers are expected to climb higher.

'I think it's drawn some leisure business that we wouldn't have seen otherwise; we're mainly more of a corporate hotel,' says Kari McGorman, director of revenue management for the downtown Doubletree Hotel. 'This year, it's kind of like, anything that will bring people to Portland.'

Domestic destinations favored

Thompson says many of the visitors are people who before Sept. 11 had been planning trips to Europe or Hawaii but instead decided they would be more comfortable with a close-to-home destination. The visitors association's timing of the campaign 'couldn't have been better,' he says.

Like McGorman, he characterizes Big Deal visitors as leisure travelers: 'They want to get away from it all; they don't stay that long. They shop, enjoy a couple of restaurants, and then they're out. Most of them don't stay three or four days, but there are so many of them that it's keeping us busy.'

Big Deal guests at the Mark Spencer Hotel mostly are from Oregon, General Manager Gus Castenada says, although there also have been many from Washington.

'The campaign has really had a huge effect on helping us maintain a better level of business,' he says.

Both the Doubletree and 5th Avenue Suites lowered their Big Deal rates this year, Doubletree down to $69 from $79 and Fifth Avenue Suites down to $109 from last year's $129.

'I'm happy with my occupancy,' Thompson says. 'Obviously, all of this discounting is going to create havoc with my profit, but everybody's still employed and that's a good thing.'

Contact Jeanie Senior at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..