State woos travelers with ads, specials

It's a long way from the height of Oregon's tourist season, but there are signs that promotional campaigns launched in the wake of the Sept. 11 downturn are stoking visitors' interest.

State officials are encouraged that one such campaign, featuring newspaper and radio ads suggesting trips throughout the state, has resulted in a sharp increase in traffic to the Oregon Tourism Commission Web site,

And in Portland, while overall hotel bookings have been down from last year, the city's attraction to convention planners around the country has held steady, said Deborah Wakefield, director of communications and public relations for the Portland Oregon Visitors Association.

Like industries in Oregon and nationwide, the state's $6 billion tourism sector was hit by the double blows of recession and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

After September, business travel Ñ already soft Ñ dropped off even further, the airlines were crippled and a fearful public became reluctant to travel.

Locally and statewide, tourism officials moved quickly to 'get people moving again,' said Todd Davidson, executive director of the Oregon Tourism Commission.

The commission devised an advertising campaign to encourage Oregonians to take vacations in their own state, Davidson said.

In Portland, where hotels, restaurants and other tourism-related businesses had seen business drop off dramatically, the annual 'Big Deal' off-season discount promotion was launched in October, a month earlier than usual, Wakefield said.

'We kicked it off early to attract people who didn't want to get on a plane,' she said. 'We wanted to get them thinking about Portland as a regional driving destination.'

Here's more about the status of tourism in Portland and around the state five months after Sept. 11.

Davidson said research conducted shortly after Sept. 11 by the Travel Industry Association of America showed Americans believed that 'they should be able to travel whenever and wherever they want to.'

'But folks didn't feel comfortable flying,' he said. 'The idea behind our campaign was to encourage Oregonians to get out and see their own state.'

In November, the commission ran ads in newspapers around the state (including the Tribune) suggesting trips to each region of Oregon.

The ads didn't run during December ('We decided to let Christmas retail rule the day,' Davidson said) but resumed in newspapers and debuted on radio in January.

Though it's too early to tell if people have made travel plans as a result of the campaign, the increase in Web site hits is encouraging.

For example: During the first half of January, with no ads running, the Web site received about 6,300 hits. In the last half of the month, after print and radio ads began running, the site registered 8,000 hits, a 27 percent increase, Davidson said.

'I've got to believe we have a presence in the marketplace that we don't usually have,' he said.


Hotel bookings between Sept. 11 and Jan. 31 were down, 'but the figures weren't as low as we expected them to be,' said Wakefield, of the Portland visitors' association.

September bookings were down 18 percent from September 2000, but the association is discounting those numbers because 'airlines weren't moving and people weren't traveling,' Wakefield said.

Bookings for November and December were more encouraging, down just 3 percent from the same period the year before.

But January 2002 bookings dipped 6.7 percent from January 2001, 'down a bit more than we expected,' Wakefield said.

'It could be that folks just decided to stick close to home for the holidays,' she said.

Convention bookings, however, paint a brighter picture. Between Sept. 11 and Jan. 31, the city booked the same number of conventions Ñ 132 Ñ as it did in the same period a year ago. The bookings will pump more than $52 million into Portland's economy. Wakefield said.

Wakefield noted that groups that already had planned conventions here did not cancel their events after Sept. 11. The Sweet Adelines, the first major group to stage a convention after the terrorist attacks, was adamant about going ahead with its Oct. 9 convention, and 8,500 singers inundated the Oregon Convention Center that month.

'Portland is perceived as a second-tier convention site,' Wakefield said of groups' decisions to meet here.

'We don't have the name or meeting space of Los Angeles or Las Vegas or those larger cities. But that also makes us right now a destination that feels safer. That may make meeting planners more comfortable about coming here.'

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