The road to SSVS began in 1999, when we hired Katherine Kertzman as Tukwila Tourism and Marketing Director. In 2002, on the heels of Think Tukwila, a successful and visible branding campaign, we were offered the opportunity to partner with the city of SeaTac. At the time, SeaTac lacked staff, energy, and a forum to spend its tourism marketing money, which represented a revenue stream that was twice the size of ours.
When we weighed the benefits of partnering with SeaTac, we decided to jettison our own identity in favor of a collective one. And it worked. In fact, it worked so well that the city of Kent joined us in 2004. We all see the value of promoting our region as an ideal vacation base from which to explore Seattle, Tacoma and Washington state.
The business model
Seattle Southside Visitor Services collectively promotes the cities of Tukwila, SeaTac and Kent. The Hotel Motel Tax Advisory Committee in each city governs the spending by making recommendations to the city councils regarding its use.
This body was formed to implement legislation passed by the state Legislature in 1997, which directs that 1 percent of city taxes collected on lodging be used to promote tourism.
Our business model is designed to be inclusive. The committee is comprised of an elected government official, half hoteliers and half other tourism venues, which gives the local business community a greater voice. Tukwila and SeaTac contribute $364,000 each, and Kent contributes $100,000.
The package deal
Between the three cities there is a unique blend of urban attractions and natural wonders. Tukwila is an important regional center for retail, hotels, shopping, dining, and family entertainment. It's also the location of Starfire Sports Complex.
SeaTac, with its 6,300 hotel rooms, has the second highest concentration of hotel rooms of any city in the state. It also has meeting facilities and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
Kent has more than 4,000 businesses, 64,000 employees and is corporate headquarters for Recreational Equipment Inc., Flow International Corp., and home to The Boeing Co.'s integrated defense systems, Starbuck Corp.'s roasting plant and the Regional Justice Center. In 2004, Kent was awarded with the Sports Illustrated "Sportstown, USA" honor for Washington as a result of its community commitment toward sports.
Seattle Southside has plenty of amenities to lure budget-savvy and time-conscious leisure and business travelers. It's centrally located 15 minutes between Seattle and Tacoma and just minutes from SeaTac Airport. It boasts a selection of over 60 hotels and motels offering rates that are 20 percent to 30 percent lower than those in Seattle. Other amenities include abundant free parking, free shuttles to SeaTac Airport and nearby Westfield Shoppingtown Center (formerly known as Southcenter Mall) and shuttle service and Metro bus access to downtown Seattle.
By branding ourselves as Seattle Southside, we receive a halo effect from Seattle, our internationally renowned neighbor, and yet, at the same time, distinguish our region. Initially, we touted our new collective territory as "fifteen minutes from downtown Seattle and a world away from downtown prices," but now, with the help of our advertising agency, Williams-Helde, our emphasis is more direct: "Seattle Southside: The Pacific Northwest Starts Here."
The SSVS team has grown to four. Our new, street-level Visitor Center just opened, located at 14220 Interurban Ave. S., halfway between Interstates 5 and 405. State Department of Transportation signage on I-5 announces its presence.
The Seattle Southside combined lodging tax increased 6.5 percent from 2003-2004. Hotel room bookings in Seattle Southside are up 5.9 percent, compared with downtown Seattle at 3.9 percent and Bellevue at 1.5 percent.
The number of phone calls to our toll-free number increased 68 percent to 1,957 in 2004 from 1,158 in 2003. Unduplicated visits to www.seattlesouthside.com increased a dramatic 148 percent to 118,600 in 2004 from 47,776 in 2003.
Since July 2004, nearly 10,000 riders have boarded Buster, the Seattle Southside Express Shuttle bus, which provides complimentary service from SeaTac hotels to Westfield Shoppingtown Center. If annualized ridership numbers for 2004 are multiplied by the average purchase per rider, this translates into $2.8 million in gross sales annually.
SSVS recently signed a contract with Starfire Sports Complex stipulating that SSVS will facilitate all its tournament hotel leads. In 2004, the Senior Softball Western Regional Championship brought 62 teams (47 from outside Washington) resulting in 2,820 room nights and an economic impact of nearly $1.4 million. In September 2006, the Senior Softball World Championships are expected to draw an estimated 300 teams and generate 12,250 room nights.
By combining forces and our nearly $800,000 budget, we plan to court regional sports tournaments, business travelers, leisure travelers, urban naturalists, the cruise market and niche markets. We also intend to strengthen our relationships with Washington State Tourism, the Seattle Convention & Visitors Bureau and our business partners.
At Seattle Southside, we're proof that there's power in numbers.
ALAN DOERSCHEL is finance director for the city of Tukwila.