Tacoma is a tourism city, and that’s a good thing. It’s good for all of Pierce County.
Even with plenty of evidence to back up that statement, it can be a difficult reality for many longtime residents to accept. Even among those who recognize Tacoma for the tourism destination it has become, some are hesitant to embrace it.
There’s a natural inclination for people to feel protective of the place they call home. Some hold in their minds the stereotype of the oblivious outsider who drives up prices and creates the bad road traffic with which the Pacific Northwest is increasingly associated.
It’s an attitude that’s understandable, but misplaced.
Millions of people visit Tacoma each year for leisure, family travel, business travel and meetings.
If, as a city, we take a serious look in the mirror, in the reflection we’ll see a Pacific Northwest waterfront city with one of the best museum districts in the country, a legacy of glass-art excellence, access to Mount Rainier and a reputation for a thriving classic-car culture.
We’ll see craft breweries and distilleries winning national awards, and an authenticity that’s not as common as it used to be among Pacific Northwest cities. People want to visit Tacoma, and they do.
They come in numbers that gave Tacoma hotels their best year on record last year. They come in numbers that have encouraged new hotel projects next to the Greater Tacoma Convention Center, along the waterfront and in downtown Tacoma.
They come in numbers that have made the waterfront along Ruston Way a bustling hub of activity throughout the summer. They come in numbers that help our museum and theater districts flourish.
That’s a good thing. Those visitors spent more than $500 million in Tacoma last year, money that is infused into local businesses and ripples throughout the region. The city’s restaurants, bars, hotels, attractions and retail stores, even if they aren’t 100 percent reliant on tourism, all benefit from it.
Beyond that, visitors to Tacoma paid more than $55 million in taxes last year, new revenue that helps to maintain local roads, schools and emergency-response services.
Those are taxes that you and I don’t have to pay. The US Travel Association estimates that each household nationally would pay $1,192 more in taxes without the tax revenue generated by tourism.
Perhaps most important, there are more than 5,000 people in Tacoma whose jobs are supported directly or indirectly by tourism.
This week marks the 34th annual National Travel and Tourism Week. This year’s theme is “Faces of Travel,” highlighting the people behind our nation’s travel industry.
These are our neighbors, friends and family members who have living-wage jobs related to tourism.
Tacoma is fortunate, in that the people who typically visit our city are actually interested in the same things that make us want to live here.
Recent research on Pierce County showed that the vast majority of visitors are repeat customers. More than half went to a museum, and nearly half took part in the same outdoor activities (hiking, visiting beaches, camping, skiing, climbing or boating) that many of us enjoy.
We should welcome these visitors with open arms.
I believe Tacoma can succeed as both a destination for tourism and as a working city with its own home-grown economic development.
I invite Tacomans to see tourism the way I see it: As one of several pathways to prosperity to which Tacoma has access.
Bennish Brown is president and CEO of Travel Tacoma + Pierce County.