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Chamber’s tourism campaign begins at home

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Hotel occupancy is one measure of success

The Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce has looked for ways to calculate the effectiveness of its new tourism marketing campaign.

One measurable number, said Marketing Director Jerri Barkley, is the area’s hotel-motel occupancy, which ideally hovers at around 62 percent or higher for the approximately 1,300 rooms in the Wenatchee Valley. The Chamber has hired Smith Travel Research to track and report monthly on occupancy and average nightly rates.

In this year’s third quarter, Wenatchee’s occupancy rate hit 73.56 percent, up from 68.2 percent for the same months last year. The average nightly rate was up $3.50 over last year to hit $85.69.

Meanwhile, Chelan County’s occupancy rate hit 75.26 percent, up from 71.7 percent for the same months last year, while room rates dipped slightly (54 cents) to $112.66. The higher room prices include upper-end hotels in Chelan and Leavenworth.

Of course, said Barkley, hotel occupancy rises and falls with the number of scheduled events (conventions, sports, festivals) and the weather. Vacancies are scarce during the Washington State Apple Blossom Festival, Winter Special Olympics and several big sports tournaments.

On the other hand, catastrophic weather events can spook tourists and leave lots of rooms empty. Last year’s autumn wildfires and resulting smoke contributed to higher vacancy rates in September. And occasional blizzards that close mountain passes can affect tourism, even as Mission Ridge Ski & Board Resort applauds the heavy snowfall.

— Mike Irwin, World staff

WENATCHEE — The logo’s designed. Brochures distributed. Ads placed. Videos produced.

Now the Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce will monitor results of its first major destination marketing campaign, a $300,000 effort to show what’s great about living here while welcoming outsiders to join in.

We started with reinforcing community pride,” said Shiloh Schauer, the Chamber’s executive director. “We think the people who live here are one of the best ways to spread the word — through family and friends — about what makes this area so special.”

Launched in late August, campaign ads and brochures ask “What Will You Pick Today?” and then offer a smorgasbord of activities. Those include the Apple Capital Recreation Loop Trail, Ohme Gardens, Mission Ridge, Foothills hikes, Pybus Public Market, wineries and microbrews and dozens of other shopping, dining, historic, cultural and artistic opportunities.

The new marketing program — planned and funded by the Chamber, the Wenatchee Valley Sports Council, the Tourism Promotion Alliance (a hotel group) and the cities of Wenatchee and East Wenatchee — is the Chamber’s latest step in retooling itself after a merger last year with the Wenatchee Valley Visitors and Convention Bureau. The bureau has since dissolved and its tasks, including promotion, were absorbed by the Chamber.

Bringing all these groups together to focus on the same ideas and goals is a paradigm shift,” said Schauer. “One message and one unified look. That’s part of why this new marketing campaign so powerful — it’s a collaborative effort we hadn’t seen here in a long time.”

Money to fund the marketing campaign came from the city of Wenatchee’s lodging taxes ($255,000) plus about $60,000 from the Tourism Promotion Alliance and $5,000 from the city of East Wenatchee. Jerri Barkley, the Chamber’s marketing director, said centerpieces of the campaign are two 5-by-7 inch, 32-page brochures — 16,000 copies total — that highlight summer and winter activities through photos, maps and lists of hotels, restaurants and stores. The brochures have been distributed to hotels, visitor centers, local airports and other high-traffic areas for visitors.

Ads touting fruit, art, hockey, wine and other attractions have been placed in Horizon Air’s in-flight magazine, the American Automobile Association’s Journey magazine, the urban magazine Seattle Met and on websites aimed at Puget Sound residents. And two videos — one aimed at conventioneers, the other at organizers of sporting events — deliver messages that the Wenatchee Valley has loads of activities and sports venues.

The campaign also expands, said Barkley, on the Chamber’s ongoing partnership with Wenatchee Wine Country to promote ag tourism and the Chamber’s own downtown tasting room, on efforts to use social media to its fullest, on the Chamber’s redesigned website and growing calendar listings and on specific promotional pieces, such as maps to downtown restaurants and tasting rooms.

Barkley said the Chamber will attempt to measure results — effectiveness and reach — of the campaign by tracking hotel occupancy rates and, if possible, the home towns, states and countries of individual visitors. The latter is a difficult task without credit card information or personal interviews, but many big events in the valley — marathons, swim meets, baseball tournaments — track where participants live.

Many of the elements are in place now, said Schauer, to begin next year’s marketing campaign as early as January. “We’re learning as we go along with this project,” she said. “We’re not sure everything will work, and we’re not sure we’re doing everything exactly right.”

But, said Schauer, “We think we’re on the right track and headed in the right direction.”

Reach Mike Irwin at 509-665-1179 or . Read his blog Everyday Business. follow him on Twitter at @MikeIrwinWW.