Top travel destination? You're already there
Visitors shelled out billions in Seattle in 2006, and their spending is likely to continue to climb this year. What's the draw? Part of it may be boredom with other places — and the lure of intangibles such as the city's "walkability."
Seattle Times staff reporters
Summer "hot spots"A survey of AAA travel-agency managers in April identified these cities as "hot spots" for summer 2007.
2 Las Vegas
4 New York
5 Los Angeles
Northwest Travel Guides
Seattle needs more ducks.
Not ducks that waddle and quack, but large motorized ducks with tires and canopies and drivers that give loosey-goosey running commentaries on the city and its sights.
Seattle Duck Tours, which transports tourists over land and water in amphibious vehicles, is "buying more equipment — more ducks," said President and CEO Brian Tracey.
That's because the city has a lot of prospective passengers, and more are on the way.
A record number of tourists are visiting the Northwest this summer.
They come to visit relatives and attend conventions, staying a few extra days en route to other places or making Seattle a destination. They add billions to the local economy when they stay in hotels, rent cars and buy airline tickets, souvenirs and food.
Last year, visitors spent $4.75 billion here — up 10 percent over 2005, said Don Welsh, chief executive officer of Seattle's Convention and Visitors Bureau. This year is on pace to draw even more.
The number of overnight visitors has steadily increased over the past four years, hitting a record 9.4 million in 2006, up 3.4 percent over the previous year, Welsh said. State and local taxes paid by visitors to King County rose as well, from more than $370 million in 2005 to $419 million in 2006, an 11.4 percent increase.
The average Seattle visitor spent $97 a day last year, Welsh said.
Seattle tourists come primarily from the 13 Western states, particularly from Northern California, he said. Many also come for cruises, either departing from Seattle or stopping off here: Over the years the number of ships stopping in Seattle has increased, typically bringing Floridians and New Yorkers, especially during summer, Welsh said.
The Port of Seattle projects record passenger volumes of 435,000 this year, with five major cruise lines offering 191 sailings from the Port through Nov. 4. Many Seattle visitors often spend only a day or two and then board a ferry for Victoria, B.C.
Janet Ray, AAA Washington spokeswoman, said it's difficult to say what cities are the hottest U.S. tourist destinations since any survey will be influenced by the region in which it's taken. But a survey of AAA managers listed Seattle as third, following Orlando, Fla., and Las Vegas, as a popular tourist destination.
Seattle tourists may have visited traditional draws and now want something different.
"We're starting to see that after they've gone to Disney World once or twice ... they're wanting a more real experience," Welsh said.
Seattle's "walkability" has helped its popularity, travel experts say. Visitors can see many things within a small area.
The Propsom family from Minnesota, for example, caught an eyeful at Pike Place Market on Friday.
You know you're not in the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes anymore when the fish vendor hands you each a large salmon, then lines you up to take a photo for future Christmas cards.
You know you're not in Minnesota anymore when the duck you're riding takes you past the Edgewater Hotel to show you where the Beatles once dangled fishing poles into the water.
You know you're not in Viking country anymore when you hear your daughter shriek: "Eeeew! Clams stink!"
"Do we have clams in Minnesota?" asked Jane Propsom. She and her husband, Craig, and daughters Emily, 12, Abby, 10, and Katie, 8, drove to Seattle on a six-week vacation.
As Abby pondered the clams' smell, her sisters and mother honed in on a crayfish barrel.
Jane snapped a photo.
"Anyone here want to buy fish?" the fish vendor asked the crowd of 50 who gathered to watch people pose with a monk fish, play with crayfish and dodge flying salmon. "You do know we sell fish, right?"
The Market's popularity notwithstanding, it's not nearly the city's main business draw.
Welsh said the Washington State Convention and Trade Center manages to stay competitive despite new convention centers springing up throughout the country. He remains optimistic that it will keep busy as large local businesses such as Boeing and Microsoft attract travelers.
"We're very encouraged by 2007 year-to-date hotel performance, convention attendance, Port of Seattle cruise business and worldwide media coverage of the Olympic Sculpture Park and other Seattle attractions," Welsh said.
Also a boon to tourism is the June 11 inauguration of Air France's nonstop service between Seattle and Paris, and this week, Aeromexico's first daily nonstop service between Seattle and Mexico City.
A few months ago Washington AAA managers tried to predict how the escalating gas prices would affect tourism, Ray said. They found that "more people are choosing long weekends as vacation alternatives to taking a full week or two-week vacation. It's part of the work world where people find it difficult to get away for two weeks. They want to take advantage of places where they can walk to attractions and measure their budgets," she said.
"Attractions" such as Seattle Duck Tours, where business jumped 38 percent from 2005 to 2006, CEO Tracey said.
People from all over come to ride the ducks — even people from Minnesota, which may not have clams but does have a state muffin.
Seattle Times travel writer Carol Pucci contributed to this report.
Nancy Bartley: 206-464-8522 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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