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Unlocking the secret of what tourists want

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Tourism is a vital component of the economy of North Central Washington. A March 2013 report by Dean Runyan and Associates marked improvements in both the North Central Washington and Washington State travel industries in 2012, as compared to 2011.

In fact, in the three-county region of North Central Washington, visitor spending increased by $18.3 million in 2012 over 2011, and the industry added 110 jobs. 

From an economic development perspective, tourism continues to hold promise as a viable industry. It leverages the unique attributes and strategic location of our region, and “sells” them to customers living outside of our area. The customers who buy the experience we have to sell visit our region for a time, without a significant burden on our public infrastructure. It can present a positive, sustainable, and consistent impact to the regional economy. 

In fact, in terms of taxable sales, the state Department of Revenue reports that both Chelan and Okanogan counties are among eight in the state with more than 20 percent generated by visitors. 

And tourism creates jobs. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that Chelan County is one of seven in the state with over 10 percent of its workforce tied to tourism. Chelan County is bested only by Grays Harbor, Jefferson, Kittitas, Pacific, San Juan, and Skamania Counties. Okanogan County follows with 7.6 percent of its employment tied to the industry, and Douglas County is at 3.2 percent.

Aligning with the merits of continuing to build this sector of the economy, there is an additional strategic initiative at work. The North Central Washington Economic Development District has been focused on entrepreneurship for several years. Studies conducted in our region have recommended that collectively we “grow our own” businesses, and we have been working to follow this recommendation. Research has proven, time and time again, that when given the chance, entrepreneurs choose to start businesses where they want to live. And often, they first visit a community as a tourist. Given the low-cost power available here, and the technology infrastructure in place, North Central Washington is poised to marry the experiences afforded here with business-friendly amenities to develop a compelling business development case.

Given the amenities offered in North Central Washington, including the endless recreational opportunities and four distinct seasons, and our proximity to a number of major markets, tourism is a viable mechanism to grow and diversify the regional economy. We have a lot to offer in North Central Washington, and visitors who appreciate these offerings could be our perfect customer.

But who are these people? And where are they? Throughout the region, there are varying degrees of sophistication when answering these questions. Some communities and organizations have very clearly identified their target market, and have quantifiable metrics as support. Others do not. What if collectively we had a firm grasp on what high-dollar, high-opportunity tourists might want from our region, where they lived on a global scale, and how to reach them?

At the North Central Washington Economic Development District we are just beginning an in-depth research project to find the answers. A research team from Washington State University will be leading us through this effort, and will provide the answers to these questions. While this project is unfolding, we look forward to providing information that may help tourism stakeholders, businesses, and communities throughout North Central Washington make informed decisions that will drive growth.

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Jennifer Korfiatis is the executive director of the North Central Washington Economic Development District. She can be reached at jennifer@ncwedd.com

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