Tourism advocates have a new pitch to lure visitors to South Sound. Their “Experience Olympia and Beyond” promotion touts the capital city environs as a place that is “decidedly different.”
One of the new visitor guides produced by the Olympia-Lacey-Tumwater Visitor & Convention Bureau goes on to say our community’s personality is genuine, relaxed, approachable, free-spirited, expressive and nature loving — and, if it needs to be said, opinionated. The bureau also promises that “a getaway to Thurston County nurtures your creative side.’’
A website reflecting the new regional tourism strategy is just 2½ months old. But the feel of experienceolympia.com and new brochures is more contemporary and reflects the first extensive research that the visitor bureau undertook in roughly a decade.
Top attractions touted in 2017 are the Olympia waterfront, the Olympia Farmers Market, Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge near Lacey and Tumwater Falls Park. In a departure, the iconic state Capitol and its campus — long a symbol of what makes this town go — are down the list at No. 5.
Outlying attractions are also big in the “Experience Olympia and Beyond” campaign. The Nisqually Refuge is on the cover of a 64-page visitor guide. That guide also highlights three local food “trails — the south county’s Bountiful Byway along state Route 507, which features a cider mill, winery, craft brewers and farms; a South Sound craft beer crawl that overlaps Pierce County; and a wine trail.
There are also shoutouts to fixtures such as Big Tom’s burgers and outlying attractions such as the Squaxin Island Tribe’s museum, Mount Rainier, ocean beaches and the Olympic mountains.
Convention bureau executive director Shauna Stewart and colleague Moira Davin say the community is an interesting place to hang out with trendy craft experiences.
“Here, ‘handcrafted’ is a way of life,” says one mini-guide they created. “Local makers create one-of-a-kind experiences for visitors to enjoy, from artisan cheese and fresh apple cider to brewers of handcrafted ales.’’
Time will tell how the new strategy pays off, and how residents like the theme. Taxpayers contribute to the bureau's work through contributions from local cities. Davin said it is too early to say what effects the campaign is having.
But tourist visits to Thurston County were up by more than 7 percent in 2016, which is a slightly better growth rate than the statewide average. Tourism supported some 3,040 jobs and represented about $303 million in direct spending, according to data compiled by Dean Runyan Associates.
One goal of the visitor bureau is to get more visitors to stay overnight in one of the 2,700 hotel rooms. And to spend that extra time memorably.
That should be possible without ruining the attractions that keep most of us living here.