When we received an email alert last Friday that the ferries to Orcas were full until the 8:55 p.m., we knew it signaled something significant: the start of the tourist season. And those high traffic numbers will continue with the Shakespeare Festival starting this week.
The first step in maintaining a tourist destination is getting visitors out here. And considering that last May through September ferry ridership from Anacortes to Orcas was 8.7 percent higher than the year before, that doesn’t seem to be a problem. The next task is creating such an incredible experience that they will return – and maybe bring some friends.
Once they step off that ferry, it’s up to us – business owners and community members alike – to make their time here as enjoyable as possible. That means being courteous, helpful and appreciative to travelers who have chosen to spend their hard-earned money in our special communities.
According to the San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau, tourism is the fourth largest industry in San Juan County and Washington state.
In 2013 (the latest year with economic data available), visitors infused $171 million into the San Juan County economy. Locally, visitor spending increased in 2014 based on a 16.6 percent jump in county lodging tax. Although county figures are positive, statewide tourism spending slowed in 2013 and is expected to have slowed in 2014, as well. So when families, wedding parties and bicyclists share our islands with us, be grateful they chose to visit the place we call home.
And try some tourism right outside your door. Be a visitor in your own backyard: take your family – or your guests – to neighboring islands. And don’t forget to shop locally!
It’s more important than ever to promote our businesses and create an incredibly positive customer experience so visitors keep coming back. Healthy businesses make for a healthy community.