Oregon’s North Coast Bands Together to Manage Regional Tourism Impacts
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Brand Story- Oregon’s North Coast — Astoria at the north end, Neskowin at the south end — is one of the most visited regions in the state.
Its close access to major urban areas makes it easy for most Oregonians and visitors to reach the beach in 90 minutes or less.
That’s just one of the reasons tourism has become one of the North Coast’s major industries. According to the Dean Runyan economic impact report developed for Travel Oregon each year, visitors in 2018 spent $580 million in Clatsop County, and $240 million in Tillamook County (the 2019 report will be available in May).
Travel Oregon’s Destination Development Team hosts regional tourism studios throughout the state.
These two rural counties are dotted with small towns. Farms, forests, waterways, beaches and public lands make up a majority of the landscape. Tourism growth also brings challenges: Highway 101, for example, becomes easily congested as the region’s only north-south corridor. And the coast’s small towns become overcrowded, especially in peak tourism months of July and August.
“The North Coast is clearly entering a new part of its destination ‘life cycle,’” said Kristin Dahl, vice president of Destination Development for Travel Oregon. “Key to moving forward will be finding the right balance between the economic and social benefits of tourism, and the impacts that high visitation can have on traffic, local services, natural resources and quality of life.”
Dahl and her team brought Travel Oregon’s Destination Management Studio to the North Coast, engaging a local steering committee representing 24 organizations and agencies. The studio began with listening sessions held throughout Tillamook and Clatsop counties starting in spring 2018. These sessions guided the topics for a series of five workshops, starting that fall and through winter 2019.
Nan Devlin, Executive Director of Tillamook Coast Visitors Association and network coordinator for the North Coast Tourism Management Network, facilitates an action-planning session with Clatsop County Commissioner Pam Wev and Clatsop County Economic Director Kevin Leahy.
Community members from both counties were encouraged to work together to find solutions for achieving sustainable tourism best practices and leveraging programs already in place. Studio sessions were attended by both the private and public sectors and represented a variety of interests and knowledge backgrounds, including forestry, state parks, transportation, government, environmental nonprofits, and tourism businesses and organizations.
The year-long studio program concluded, but the work was just beginning for the participants and attendees. The final workshop session, held in Astoria in January 2019, established a way forward: the launch of the North Coast Tourism Management Network. It was formed by a leadership team that includes a network coordinator, core leaders, project team leaders, the original steering committee that worked with Travel Oregon and active community participants.
The network coordinator is Nan Devlin of Tillamook Coast Visitors Association (TCVA). Core team members include David Reid of Astoria Warrenton Chamber of Commerce, Jeremy Strober of Heartfelt Hospitality, Jim Paino of Cannon Beach Chamber of Commerce, and Arica Sears of Oregon Coast Visitors Association (OCVA). Funding for the network and projects from the Studio are supported by the Astoria Warrenton Chamber of Commerce, Cannon Beach Chamber of Commerce, City of Seaside, OCVA, TCVA, and Travel Oregon.TCVA is the fiscal agent for the network.
The network decided on six initial projects, four of which are part of phase one funding: creating awareness and incentives for using mass transit to and around the North Coast; encouraging stewardship practices by locals, visitors and tourism organizations; the introduction of beach and trailhead ambassadors to help disperse crowds in peak months; and communication efforts to create understanding of how tourism benefits the economy and communities. Phase two projects include expanding agritourism and the North Coast Food Trail, and developing a cultural heritage trail. All of these programs support established sustainable tourism principles.
Marcus Hinz, Executive Director of OCVA, Chris Olson of Cannon Beach Chamber of Commerce, and David Reid of Astoria Warrenton Chamber of Commerce work on project planning.
“We understand the economic value of tourism, as do businesses that benefit from visitor spending. In addition to lodging and restaurants, tourist dollars are spent in gas stations, grocery stores, museums, retail shops, tire repair places and many more businesses that benefit communities,” said Devlin. “We also understand the concern of possible ‘overtourism,’ which many European destinations have experienced in the past 20 years. We live here, too, and that’s why we’re working together now to mitigate issues.”
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