Katherine Kertzman wants to let you in on a secret: The cities of Des Moines, Tukwila and Sea-Tac have a lot to offer.
Kertzman is the executive director of Seattle Southside Visitor Services, the organization that oversees tourism efforts in the three cities south of Seattle. She's been marketing Seattle's suburbs since 1999, when she joined the city of Tukwila as its tourism and marketing director. Seattle Southside was created three years later when the city of SeaTac joined.
The organization has undergone some twists and turns since then. Last fall, the three cities agreed to establish the Seattle Southside Tourism Promotion Area and charter the Seattle Southside Regional Tourism Authority, a public corporation and separate legal entity which will manage increased funding and tourism promotion activities for the cities.
According to its website, Southside Visitor Services now "represents 60 hotels and nearly 8,000 hotel rooms, more than 100 full-service restaurants and more than 5 million square feet of shopping."
What are the challenges of selling South King County as a tourist destination? The three cities actually complement one another. It's easier to sell the destinations as a regional partnership, rather than just the cities separately. Des Moines offers quaint little shops and the marina. SeaTac offers hospitality and a large grouping of hotels. Tukwila has the entertainment. I think one of the most important things we need to do is encourage our local businesses and residents to be tourists in their own back yards. We'll do the work of marketing and outreach and sales, but we also need to work with our locals to make a difference.
How did this effort come about?
Hoteliers petitioned the cities to create this $2-per-room charge that they give their guests (on top of an already existing 1 percent lodging tax). It's not a tax. This surcharge can only be used for marketing. This will triple our budget to more than $4 million annually.
What will you do with the extra money?
A couple of different things. Our goal is to increase occupancy in shoulder season weekends. Occupancy drops significantly during that time. We haven't done a lot of outreach locally. We will be marketing to business groups and developing relationships with the larger employers whose corporate offices may be here.
Seattle has an estimated $6 billion tourism industry. Are you playing off that as well?
Yes. Seattle is recognized around the world. You can make one of our cities your home base, and go to downtown Seattle or to Tacoma's museum district. We are not competing. We work together to market the greater Puget Sound region with events like the U.S. Open. We're hoping to bring a Super Bowl or World Cup here. It takes us all working together and collaboratively. We make referrals to one another all the time.
Are most people still familiar with the area's gritty past?
I think it's decades old, but it's something we still need to work on. People have long memories. Our target audience is the visitors and not the locals. Still, we want pride in our destination, and we want the locals to recommend us to family and friends.
Ashley Comar strolls through the Highline SeaTac Botanical Garden's 10.5 acres on a foggy day, Jan. 30, 2015. Open in its present location to the public since 2000, the garden was created in 1996 by volunteers determined to save local gardening master Elda Behm's original Paradise Garden.
Rob Smith is editor in chief of the Puget Sound Business Journal.