PORT ANGELES — The Olympic Peninsula has the potential to be a top winter tourist destination and the “shoulder seasons” of summer and fall can likewise attract visitors beyond the summer peak.
That is the message businesses want to get out, About 50 participants at a town hall hosted Wednesday by the Olympic Peninsula Visitor Bureau at the Raymond Carver Room at the Port Angeles Library learned how a strategic plan is being developed to make it happen.
“The purpose is to develop strategies to create a more consistent, sustainable and vibrant year-round visitor economy in the next five years with the goal of increasing visitor spending,” said Greg Oates, senior vice president of innovation at MMGY NextFactor, the company that is producing the five-year Olympic Peninsula Tourism Master Plan.
Targeted seasonal promotions, getting people to think of the Olympic Peninsula as more than Olympic National Park, creating more culinary opportunities, cultural events and experiences and expanding shuttle systems for visitors were among the preliminary suggestions for a strategic plan that is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year.
The project was initiated by the Clallam County Lodging Tax Advisory Committee, which was joined by the Port Angeles Lodging Tax Advisory Committee and the Jefferson County Lodging Tax Advisory Council. The entire $175,000 budget came from lodging taxes paid by customers for hotel, motel, and short-term rental accommodations.
The Port Angeles event, along with meetings in Port Townsend and Sequim on Tuesday and Forks on Wednesday, offered residents and businesses in each community an opportunity to offer their insights and ideas about the plan, which is still in development.
In addition to gathering feedback from the four town halls, MMGY NextFactor solicited input from a 15-member leadership committee representing hospitality and tourism business, municipalities and chambers of commerce across the North Olympic Peninsula; organized 10 focus groups comprised of industry and community stakeholders; and conducted a survey of 1,300 residents.
The information will be organized, analyzed and synthesized into an overarching strategic plan with short-, medium- and long-term goals. The entities involved in creating a process for achieving the goals will be different for each community.
Marsha Massey, executive director of the Olympic Peninsula Visitor Bureau, said when MMGY NextFactor delivers the strategic plan sometime in late December the OPVB will distribute it to the leadership and the lodging tax advisory committees. The public will probably have an opportunity to look at it after the first of the year.
Aligning community, tourism and economic development within each community as well as across the entire Olympic Peninsula will be key to success in implementing the plan to create a more predictable and marketable year-round economy, she said.
“This has to be a collaborative and concerted effort,” Massey said.
At the Port Angeles town hall, a number of participants cited a lack of affordable housing and workers as having created significant barriers to growing the local tourism industry.
It was a theme Oates said he had heard in Port Townsend and Sequim, as well as from other MMGY NextFactor clients.
“The No. 1 concern globally is workforce shortages and housing exacerbates that,” Oates said. “It’s one of our most intractable issues.”
Another barrier: Travel disruptions caused by often unreliable ferry service and Washington State Department of Transportation construction roadway projects, from correcting culverts to improve fish passage to striping, maintenance and repairs.
A number of individuals said that homeless individuals and their encampments and the failure to clean up the long-dormant Rayonier Mill site created a bad impression of Port Angeles as a travel destination.
In a theme that he would repeat throughout his presentation, Oates said expanding and elevating efforts to attract year-round visitors required stakeholders across the community to work together.
“Public, private and civic organizations need to be on the same page,” Oates said.
Massey said the five-year strategic plan already had a solid foundation in the Olympic Peninsula Tourism Commission, which markets the wider Olympic Peninsula. “We’re not starting from ground zero,” Massey said. “We already have collective efforts in place.”
The strategic plan will help them do their job even better, she said.
Reporter Paula Hunt can be reached at Paula.Hunt@soundpublishing.com