Backed by coordinated travel and tourism industry efforts, international visitation to Oregon keeps climbing.
Oregon has long drawn the intrepid of spirit, from the Paleo-Indians who first settled its valleys and estuaries to the traders and ranchers who later arrived determined to plot those rugged coordinates.
Today, a new generation of adventurers are heeding the call to Oregon, but they’re not here to homestead or hawk furs; instead, it’s food, drink and a year-round outdoor playground that lures them.
Call it Oregon’s Modern Age of Exploration — and a welcome economic boon. In 2014, travelers plunked $10.3 billion into Oregon’s economy, generating more than 101,000 jobs for Oregonians. And they continue to come, with a growing number of them bearing overseas passports. International visitation to Oregon rose 9 percent between 2013 and 2014, and these foreign visitors alone spent an estimated $840 million during their stays.
Portland International Airport’s international arrivals are up 21 percent, and PDX expects a record-busting 17 million total passengers to clear its gates in 2016.
With the assistance of Travel Oregon, public and private travel and tourism entities are uniting to market the 33rd state’s many marvels to these international explorers. But in a world of exotic destinations increasingly interconnected by quick, affordable flights, they know it’s going to take some creative thinking to keep Oregon on the global radar. With this in mind, we make a three-stop tour of some of the smartest travel strategies taking shape across the state.
First Stop: International Arrivals
The Portland International Airport is a small but mighty hub, offering daily transoceanic flights to Europe and Asia and serving 10 international destinations and growing. Now, thanks to a $2-million International Arrivals Area remodel, PDX is greeting visitors with true Oregon hospitality.
The upgrade, a joint effort of the Port of Portland, Travel Oregon and Travel Portland, bolsters PDX’s reputation among airlines and visitors alike, says Port of Portland Director of Air Service Development David Zielke: “By the time they get off the airplane and are downstairs, they’re already introduced to Oregon as a wonderful place to be.”
Arriving passengers are welcomed by warm, regionally inspired murals and video screens showcasing Travel Oregon’s “7 Wonders of Oregon” as they navigate global entry and automated passport kiosks. Outdoors, canopies have been extended to keep them dry while they await transport buses.
Zielke believes collaborative endeavors like this one are essential to growing Oregon tourism: “If you’re in LA or New York, the market tends to come to you and people can stay in silos or work independently…we have to pedal a little faster, a little harder, and really think about how can we work as a team.”
Second Stop: Check-In
The lobby of Newport’s Elizabeth Street Inn is a feast for the curious ear. In addition to lilting English spoken in a register of accents, you’re likely to catch snippets of Japanese and Swedish passing between guests, notes Director of Sales and Marketing Jennifer Morkert: “You can stand in the lobby and hear several different international languages being spoken.”
International visitorship has doubled year after year for the inn, with visitors from Northern Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Japan now joining longtime regular crowds from Germany, the United Kingdom and Canada.
These guests arrive hungry for the authentic, she adds, eager to chat up local fishermen or even take a dip in the ocean: “They’re very kind, and they know exactly what they want. They’re on a mission when they come in!”
This international influx kept the inn afloat and its staff employed year-round through the recent recession, says Morkert, but to hold the gains, the state’s tourism industry must keep rallying together to offer travelers a unique experience: “Visitors really want to feel what it’s like to be an Oregonian. They want to try what we have.”
Third Stop: The Urban — and Not‑So‑Urban — Wilds
Attracting overseas visitors is one thing, but once they’re here, how will you amaze them?
It’s a question David Penilton of America’s Hub World Tours has regularly pondered, as his company has expanded from offering Portland-based city tours to regional-themed jaunts to an array of excursions along the West Coast. For answers and guidance, he often taps Oregon’s travel and tourism brain trust.
“Travel Oregon is a lifeline to the rest of the world for us,” he says. “And as they continue to expand and keep abreast of changes in the industry, we want to be there with them, from start to finish.”
Today 40% of America’s Hub’s tourgoers are international, many from China, Australia and New Zealand, and word of the Pacific Northwest’s special allure is spreading fast, but Penilton knows an industry so interdependently connected cannot survive by buzz alone. Individual players must consistently join together to market Oregon as a complete destination — not just a charming series of lone vistas and lively stopping-off points.
“Tourism impacts every city and every town throughout the state of Oregon,” he says. “And we all see there’s value in collaborating and working together.”