Business

Chamber Notes: Tourism is not a four-letter word

It’s that time of year when the days are longer, flowers and trees are in full bloom, and the weather is delightful. It’s during the summertime that the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce focuses a little more heavily on reaching the visitor traffic that is already on Whidbey Island.

Scores of visitors flock to Deception Pass State Park, Washington’s most visited state park. From May to September, the Chamber staffs an information booth, appropriately named the WOW wagon; WOW stands for Whidbey on Wheels. Last year, over 18,000 visitors were given information by staff and volunteers at the WOW wagon. The goal is to entice some of the visitors already coming to the island to venture down Highway 20, perhaps leaving some of their travel dollars in Oak Harbor and the rest of Whidbey Island.

Staff and volunteers enjoy meeting visitors, many from Washington State, some from around the world. They say that the best part is enjoying the fabulous scenery at Deception Pass and bragging to visitors about the island they love and call home.

In an effort to capture even more of those travel dollars, some of which are just passing through Oak Harbor, the Chamber and the City have partnered to implement a way-finding signage program. The first phase includes 26 signs to help visitors navigate their way around Oak Harbor. The good news is that almost all 26 signs replace existing signage that needs updating, which will create a more aesthetically pleasing environment.

The even better news is that every improvement made in Oak Harbor not only benefits visitors, but it also benefits the local citizens. The beauty of improving the town for tourists, is that they use it for a short visit, but the residents get to enjoy it every day for years to come. So that means all of the City’s efforts in waterfront redevelopment might be made in the name of tourism, but ultimately, redevelopment of the waterfront is something that residents get to enjoy everyday.

I often hear from concerned citizens that we don’t need tourism in Oak Harbor. I want to set the record straight, tourism is already here. The goal is to capture more of the visitors’ dollars while they are here, and send them on their way. They are already driving on our roads. So, let’s bring them into our businesses and allow them to help pay for the services that we all enjoy. Visitor spending provides jobs, revenue from sales tax, and more. It’s a resource that ripples through the community.

The best part, again, is that all of the amenities created for tourists are amenities that residents get to use in their everyday living. How great is that?

In the meantime, investing in tourism is not mutually exclusive of other community improvement aspirations. It is still important to recruit and retain industry that will provide living-wage jobs. It is still important to protect the community’s relationship with NAS Whidbey. It is still important to enhance services available to residents. Creating a community more appealing to visitors, also improves the odds of meeting the rest of our goals as well.

Tourism, it’s not just for tourists.

Old Fashioned 4th

Also not just for tourists, is the Old Fashioned 4th of July event, which is just around the corner. This annual festival is a celebration primarily aimed at locals.

The Chamber is planning another fantastic event taking place at City Beach Park (Windjammer Park) June 30 through July 4. Monday, July 4 will be positively patriotic, with a hometown parade on Pioneer Way; as well as booths and activities in the park all day, including a homemade boat regatta, a chili cook off, a live local band and a choreographed, professional fireworks display at dusk. The carnival will be in town from June 30-July 4 and, on the weekend, food and vendor booths will line the park for adults to enjoy while kids experience the thrills at the carnival.

If you haven’t encountered the Rubber Ducky (homemade boat) Regatta in the last three years, you have missed out. It goes like this, a group of four people build a boat out of any ordinary materials: milk cartons, barrels, air mattresses, wood, fun-oodles, inflatable kiddie pools, and more. They race their vessel in the lagoon and the winner receives cash. This year, rumor has it, the Oak Harbor Yacht Club swashbuckling, sword-waving pirates are going to judge the race.

If you like chili or are a jalapeno aficionado, be sure to sample all of the entries at the Chili Cook Off and register to win the Jalapeno Eating Contest. It will knock your socks off. By the way, Randy Bradford, manager of the Coachman Inn, will be defending his first place chili cook off recipe from last year. Let’s see if he can sweeten up the judges again this year.

To register for the Rubber Ducky Regatta or the Chili Cook Off or for more information on the Old Fashioned 4th of July programming, call the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce at 675-3755.

Priscilla Heistad is executive director of the Greater Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce. Her column is scheduled to appear the third Saturday of each month on the Business page of the Whidbey News-Times.

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