Opinion

When does a tourist cease to be a tourist?

If tourists live less than an hour’s drive from the sites they visit, are they tourists the Kitsap Peninsula Visitor and Convention Bureau should try to attract to those sites?

The Bureau’s announcement that Patricia Graf-Hoke is the new executive general manager included references to a focus on attracting local residents to events and sites in Kitsap County.

Since the Bureau receives public funds collected by a tax on hotel and motel lodging services within the county, and since those funds have ordinarily been used to attract overnight visitors, trying to attract local residents seems odd.

Local residents may look like tourists and spend like tourists at the places they visit, but they don’t ordinarily choose to spend the night in a motel rather than return home.

Rather than increasing the income earned by local lodging businesses and the revenue collected by the tax, public funds spent on attracting local residents would benefit whatever places those locals visit.

But there could be an important indirect benefit, if tourist-oriented events and activities attracted more local residents to an apparently enjoyable way to spend a few hours.

The more people there are in attendance, the more successful the event is likely to be — measuring success by the number of dollars earned from selling goods and services to those people.

If events are successful enough to be repeated in the future, they can hardly avoid attracting tourists from other areas. People seeking an entertaining diversion from everyday life tend to go where they see others having fun.

The same advertising that could attract tourists from out of the area would attract local residents, so the only additional effort and expense would be in disseminating the information locally.

Port Orchard could become a destination more often, if the merchants, nonprofit organizations, and city government figure out how to work with the Bureau in bringing people from the local area into town.

There are already successful events during the year, and, as “Cedar Cove Days” showed, there is an attractiveness to the old downtown that we who can see it every day don’t usually perceive.

It takes an event that is out of the ordinary for us to see the familiar in a new light.

Granted, Port Orchard may need to reassess its usual procedures for handling the traffic and crowds during festivals or similar events.

Attracting tourists by shutting out normal traffic and crowding out businesses that try to exist downtown throughout the year might just substitute sporadic periods of prosperity for a better everyday level of business activity.

Depending on public funding for shuttle buses and foot ferries rather than charging a reasonable fee for park-and-ride service is not always a viable option — especially when public funds are in decline.

Convenient places to park privately owned vehicles and take a shuttle to various sites during a festival event are worth the price to most people.

Closing the main street through town may sometimes be unavoidable, but allowing local residents to drive past the festivities on that main street might be the best local advertising that can be had.

If local businesses are going to enjoy any revenue boost from occasional events that draw large numbers of people, at least some of their usual customers have to find it practical to get there.

For Port Orchard to become a frequent tourist destination, the special events that attract people from other places have to be used to introduce them to an area they may visit again just for the fun of it.

If they return, local businesses would benefit even when there is no special event to draw them here.

Easy to say, but hard to achieve. There have to be businesses that can offer them a reason to make a return visit.

Those businesses cannot survive solely on revenue from people who live outside Kitsap County — which brings us back to the need to attract local residents. too.

It seems odd to use the lodging tax revenue to attract locals, but it could be a better way to attract more non-local tourists.

Bob Meadows is Port Orchard resident.

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