Destination: Kitsap Peninsula
Tourism is the answer

Last year, during one of the worst economies in decades, Yakima County, population 239,000, collected $2,300,000 in lodging taxes. Kitsap County, population 247,000, collected just $975,000. Why did Yakima generate so many more lodging tax dollars than Kitsap County? It’s not just because they have more hotels or are a major tourist destination. It’s because years ago Yakima decided to make tourism a cornerstone of their economic development; an investment decision that continues to pay dividends today.

The story is the same for the Tri-Cities, Chelan, Whatcom and dozens of other Washington state counties, and even for our friends up north on the Olympic Peninsula. Clallam County, population of just 86,500, collected $1,100,000 lodging tax revenues. It’s important to note that lodging taxes represent only a small percentage of actual sales and other taxes generated by hotels, restaurants, retailers, entertainment venues, and other businesses supported by a robust tourism economy.

Making tourism a cornerstone of the Kitsap economy just makes sense. It’s clean, green, and doesn’t put a burden on existing social or government services. It supports small business, which economists agree creates 80% of all new jobs which will lead the country to economic recovery. Clearly, tourism is the fastest, most effective strategy we can use to improve our local economy right now. The good news is we have a world class product ready to take to market. It’s called the Kitsap Peninsula.

If Yakima can turn vast acres of farmland into a wine county with an international reputation, then the Kitsap Peninsula, with 300 miles of shoreline, connected by historic waterfront communities, marinas, hundreds of miles trails and mountain vistas, can achieve the same success, especially when you consider our location and neighbors.

The Kitsap Peninsula is located in one of the most naturally beautiful settings in the world and arm’s reach from the Seattle/Puget Sound region, the 13th largest metropolitan market in the country. Some of the wealthiest neighborhoods and most innovative and successful businesses in the world live just across the pond; Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Adobe, Vulcan Ventures, the $34 billion dollar Gates Foundation destined to become the center of the world health community. These prestigious firms employ thousands of young professionals and entertain hundreds of business and international visitors every year. The Seattle-Tacoma market is at the top of every tourism marketing media list and it’s the sleeping giant in our backyard.

In 2010, the Port of Seattle expects 223 cruise ships and 835,000 guests to pump $245 million into the Puget Sound economy and the Seattle-Tacoma Airport, 25th busiest travel hub in the world, delivers international business and leisure visitors to our doorstep everyday. And it’s Puget Sound mariners visiting our local marinas on the weekends who are most likely to drop anchor and stay.

Based on the 70,000 monthly visitors knocking at the KPVCB website door, it appears we have what they are looking for, and it isn’t Disneyland, Las Vegas or the wild side of Alaska. They are looking for clean air, water, open spaces and all the urban amenities of home. All we have to do is answer the knock at the door and show them the way to paradise; by auto, bike, plane or aboard the state’s #1 tourist attraction — the Washington State Ferries. Locals may be accustomed to these iconic ferries, but for out-of-area travelers, a ferry ride is often the highlight of their visit. And ferries riders are customers for a meal, shopping, or an overnight stay.

The branding strategy “Kitsap Peninsula, The Natural Side of Puget Sound” is intentional; designed to give Kitsap Peninsula its own identity as the sweet spot between the bustling cities of Puget Sound and the rain-forests of the Olympic Peninsula. Our number one priority has to be to branding the “Kitsap Peninsula” and all of the cities and communities it includes. We can’t keep saying we are across the water from Seattle…

Luckily for us, Puget Sound is the most wired region in the US and today nearly all travel planning is done online. Technology, along with lots of web content is king, and wireless devices like iPhones, iPads and Blackberrys are today’s road warriors. The KPVCB is meeting this demand with a brand new website launched in June that also targets sports tournaments, conferences, and other opportunities.

However, to compete, we must market the Kitsap Peninsula as a region, and not as individual communities. It won’t happen overnight, but if there is a collective will and community commitment to join forces, we can make tourism a successful cornerstone of our economy and preserve our quality of life for generations to come.

(Editor’s Note: Patricia Graf-Hoke is Executive Director of the Kitsap Peninsula Visitor & Convention Bureau, the official marketing organization for the Kitsap Peninsula. She may be reached at grafhoke [at] visitkitsap [dot] com.