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Two hundred thousand doesn’t buy much nowadays

Seattle CVB branding logoThe Seattle Convention and Visitors Bureau unveiled their newest marketing campaign, an effort aimed at encouraging continued tourism in Seattle’s non-peak season.

They had to invent a stupid word to do it:

Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Seattle’s cold-weather tourism is heating up
Luring visitors to rain-swept city? Try conventions and a brand-new word



The clouds are rolling in, and the cruise ships are sailing out on their final voyages for the season. Ticket lines dwindle at the Space Needle just as foot traffic tapers off at Pike Place Market.

It’s the end of Seattle’s peak tourism season and the beginning of an annual challenge for the city’s marketing gurus: how to break through the national perception that this is a rain-drenched outpost and get people, and their money, to visit.

“Winter tourism is sort of interesting because locals think, ‘Why would anyone come to Seattle?’” said Seattle’s Convention and Visitors Bureau spokesman David Blandford. “But they do.”

Even as the weather changes, new hotels are popping up all over downtown, and room bookings are setting records.

In fact, officials plan to announce today a new marketing campaign that will serve as Seattle’s image to the world, bureau President and Chief Executive Don Welsh said Thursday. It took about a year to develop and cost $200,000, he said.

The bureau will spend $300,000 promoting the brand, which includes a newly invented word—“metronatural”—and the concept of a metropolis juxtaposed against natural beauty, Welsh said.

The trademarked word will replace the current logo designed in 1999, which features an eyeball, the @ symbol and the letter L. (See-@-L.)

In the gray months, Portlanders and Vancouverites stay overnight to see the opera, cheer on some football and holiday shop. But even those vacationers aren’t enough to close the seasonal tourism gap.

Instead, the city fills its hotels in autumn by selling conventions and marketing the Washington State Convention and Trade Center, a hulking state-owned building on the corner of Seventh Avenue and Pike Street.

Since it was built using public bond money in 1988, the convention center has grown to become one of Seattle’s tourism staples, last year contributing $13.5 million in revenue to the state. In 2005, the center’s 507 events drew almost 400,000 attendees.

That’s why the biggest portion of the tourism bureau’s $8.2 million operating budget is spent selling meetings and conventions. It’s not that tourists aren’t welcome, say officials, it’s just that business travelers and convention delegates spend more—about $640 per trip, compared with the average tourist’s $474.

The tourism bureau’s job is to sell the city to meeting planners and tourists. It holds contracts with the city of Seattle, the Port of Seattle and about 1,000 dues-paying businesses, including hotels, airlines, cruise lines and attractions.

“We operate very much as a business because tourism is a very competitive one,” Blandford said.

Differentiation is key, he said. Seattle’s convention center promises that delegates can be in lectures by day and on ski hills by night, boasts a chef that hails from the Four Seasons and puts visitors steps away from shopping and restaurants.

Conventioneers also get a discount—hotel room rates fall 15 percent to 25 percent in the fall and winter, according to the Seattle Hotel Association.

All that, with some help from positive national press clippings and the cruise ships, helped King County post a record 9.1 million overnight visitors in 2005.

Tourism is a $12.4 billion industry in Washington—which puts it on par with aerospace, software and wood products in terms of its contribution to the gross state product, according to state research. King County is the state’s travel engine, accounting for more than half of the total spending and room sales collection, according to the state tourism office.

Seattle covets conventions that will fill 1,000 hotel rooms. Downtown has 6,000 hotel rooms within walking distance of the convention center, according to the bureau.

Just about every U.S. city has a convention center. . The tourism bureau employs two people in Washington, D.C., to push Seattle to the 20,000 associations located in and around the Capital Beltway. A third marketer works full time in Chicago to cater to the 9,000 associations based there, Welsh said.

Seattle’s advantage over big-time convention cities, such as Chicago, is the lack of bitter cold.

“We have a bit of a challenge in convincing meeting planners that that’s the way it is,” Blandford said. “People mistakenly believe it’s snowy, too. It’s satisfying to say, ‘No, it doesn’t snow in the city.’”

About one-third of the conventions are health care related, according to Michael McQuade, the convention center’s director of sales and marketing. As medical associations become more specific—recent conventions included the American Association of Blood Banks and the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons—more delegates will be heading to Seattle, he said.

Other conventions vary—ranging from international trade groups to professional societies to niche groups such as the Brewers Association, which held its beer conference in Seattle in April.

Convention season peaks from now until Thanksgiving and picks up again in spring, according to the bureau.

The winter holidays always have softer demand and more vacancies. To combat that, hotels turn to rate cuts and packages. For example, The Westin Seattle offers a $3,000 Seahawks package that includes a limo ride to the game and high-end tailgate food, said Elisabeth James, general manager of the city’s largest hotel.

Also, hoteliers change their marketing philosophy to promote holiday shopping and eco-tourism, rather than spectacular views, said Karl Kruger, president of the Seattle Hotel Association.

“The one thing that we need to work on as a destination is to create an event which will highlight our city in the shoulder and low periods,” he said. “Perhaps a festival in January, maybe an art fair in November. There needs to be some attraction where we can market ourselves to our 500-mile radius.”

The tourism bureau also plans a campaign to encourage people who live elsewhere in the Puget Sound region to come into the city to see the attractions.

People like Tukwila resident Kathleen Davis-Wright, 63, who wandered in the rain outside the Space Needle this week after viewing the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit.

“I’m doing Christmas shopping,” she said, holding up a key chain souvenir marked at 30 percent off. “It’s fun to go to the different places. Little rain drops won’t hurt anybody.”

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