Portland, Oregon: Positioning Tourism as an Economic Driver

While many destination organizations excel at their marketing mandate, Travel Portland has likewise remained committed to leading its community and stakeholders to invest in travel and tourism as a key economic driver to Portland and its surrounding regions. From education to coalition building, Travel Portland has successfully deployed on multiple strategies to secure and grow its funding — funding that ultimately allows Portland to build its competitiveness in an increasinly noisy travel market.

A Mission for Economic Development

The basis of Travel Portland’s existence as an organization boils down to a single mission: to strengthen the regional economy by marketing Portland as desired destination for travel.

Underscoring its mandate to market Portland as a desirable travel destination is Travel Portland’s defining purpose of promoting economic development. As such, Travel Portland has become the leading organization advancing the voice of the tourism industry as an economic driver for the city and region. Their motto is: What is good for tourism is good for Portland, and vice versa.

Becoming a Leader, Building a Coaltion

In 2014, travel and tourism contributed a total of $4.6 billion in direct spending to Portland, translating to over $200 million in state and local taxes. The industry supports more than 33,000 jobs in Portland, including many small business owners. But beyond that, the work of Travel Portland improves the quality of life of residents and builds local communities, and the organization continually communicates that fact to their local stakeholders.

“Advocacy has always been important to [us]” said Tamara Kennedy-Hill, Director of Community Relations for Travel Portland “Our advocacy efforts are led by Travel Portland senior leadership and a Community Action Committee (CAC), whose activities and issues are coordinated by the community relations director with oversight by the CEO.”

The CAC was created in 2006 to help guide Travel Portland’s strategic involvement in issues that have the potential to impact the local tourism industry.

Advocacy as a Balancing Act

Travel Portland pulls from five major funding sources representing approximately $20 million in revenue:

  • 1% of Hotel Transient Lodging Tax through a contract with the City of Portland.
  • 2% Dedicated Hotel Occupancy Tax within the Tourism Improvement District, that’s used for tourism promotion.
  • Marketing contract with the Oregon Convention Center.
  • Co-op partnership dues, Travel Portland is a 501(c)6.

A Portland City commissioner, Multnomah County commissioner, and a Metro Councilor sit on the Travel Portland Board. While this relationship does not preclude advocacy efforts by the organization, it does impact the strategy by which the organization engages with issues that affect travel and tourism locally.

Travel Portland’s advocacy initiatives primarily involve education of the value tourism brings to the economy, raising awareness on the role of a organization in coordinating these activities, and building coalitions with aligned stakeholders to advance a specific issue or cause. “Travel Portland will on occasion testify in support of specific initiatives and write letters of endorsement on projects that will enhance the long term desirability of the destination and brand,” Kennedy-Hill adds.

Buoying Organization Funding

At the end of the day, when the city and region believe what’s good for tourism is good for Portland, Travel Portland can consistently secure reinvestment in travel and tourism and focus on the task of marketing and fulfilling its business functions. Two examples of this include the Visitors Development Fund and the Portland Tourism Improvement District.

Created in 2000 to support the expansion of the Oregon Convention Center but also to provide a sustaining funding source to attract citywide conventions, the Visitors Development Fund (VDF) serves as a grant program providing dollars to buy down the cost of the convention center for meeting planners, and allows Portland to operate on a competitive basis in the group market.

An unprecedented public-private partnership, the fund created the Visitors Development Initiative, of which the VDF is one funding component, and received support from hotel and car rental industries to self-tax and provide this as an economic impact driver. Travel Portland was and continues to be a critical partner in the success and protection of this fund for use of attracting new convention business and generating a high ROI for the fund.

Similarly, in 2012, Portland’s hotel community united to create a new funding stream to enhance promotion of the Portland Region as a preferred destination for meetings, conventions and leisure travel. To accomplish this, Portland’s City Council passed an ordinance creating the Portland Tourism Improvement District (TID). Travel Portland was a critical partner to advocate for this program.

The TID provides a stable source of tourism funding to support sales, marketing and promotional efforts with the ultimate goal of increasing hotel occupancy and overall visitor spending in the market. Unlike the existing transient lodging tax, the funds gathered through the TID assessment are managed by hoteliers, not the city. The funds are shared with Travel Portland through the existing city structure for gathering and distributing hotel fees.

“The big win for us involved the passage of the agreement by City Council and engaging the organization’s hotel partners to champion the concept,” said Kennedy-Hill. “The TID board currently works in concert with Travel Portland leadership to ensure that TID revenue dollars are directed toward attracting new incremental business to Portland during need periods, which is November through March.” With increased funding, Travel Portland was able to set its sights on more ambitious goals, elevating campaigns to track and target new growth for winter business. The convention sales department also adjusted its goals to focus on higher room night goals during winter timeframes, tracking key metrics like growth in room demand, tax collections, and overall economic impact during the predefined winter months.

Looking Ahead with Advocacy and Community Action

Currently, Travel Portland is focused on renewing the TID for a ten-year period or longer review and renewal cycle, compared to its current five year cycle.

From a Community Action Committee and Community Relations focus, the organization will continue to engage with the city related to changes in Private for Hire Transportation. “There is a temporary pilot initiative happening now in Portland that has suspended the cap on taxi permits and allows for Uber and Lyft to operate legally here,” explains Kennedy-Hill. “Other emerging issues involve the legislation of marijuana and the potential implications of this from a tourism, media and livability perspective.”

With such issues continually emerging, Travel Portland embraces its position to lead its community and advance the voice of the visitor experience.