May 22, 2024

Adventure Awaits Journeyers

Discovering the World Anew

Bellevue Tourism on Rise | News

4 min read

Visit Bellevue crowd

Visit Bellevue Executive Director Brad Jones addresses about 200 people attending the organization’s annual meeting on Wednesday at the Meydenbauer Center.

Bellevue’s tourism has nearly fully recovered to pre-pandemic levels — the exception being a slight lag in business travel and more ground to make up in international visits — but the city’s destination marketing organization, armed with new funding from fees on hotel guests, is unveiling programs this year to help Bellevue meet and exceed pre-COVID travel levels.

Bellevue’s tourism resurgence in 2023 was impressive, Brad Jones, executive director of Visit Bellevue, told nearly 200 people gathered for his organization’s annual meeting Wednesday at the Meydenbauer Center. The city recorded 1.95 million overnight visitors who injected $675 million into the economy for a total economic impact of $1.5 billion.

“The trends are still going upward, which we love to see,” Jones said, highlighting a recovery of hotel revenues in the first quarter. Remaining headwinds include business travel, which is at about 95% pre-pandemic, and inbound international travel, at about 65%, he said. “So in 2024, really our goal is to expand our horizons by promoting and achieving a whole rebound in these segments.”

With new visitor and marketing programs boosted by new Tourism Promotion Area funds, he anticipates tourism’s impact to grow to $2 billion this year.

Culinary tourism

Visit Bellevue plans to promote culinary tourism this year, including working with celebrated chef Shota Nakajima on local and international promotion of Bellevue’s thriving culinary scene.

Some new efforts to boost travel include:

  • Visit Bellevue’s first overseas marketing campaign, which is occurring in Japan and includes a custom microsite in Japanese on Visit Bellevue’s website, and related advertising, public relations, social media, and more in Japan. Visit Bellevue also created a yuru-chara character mascot, Belle the Bobcat, to be a thoughtful characterization of a travel guide for Japanese visitors.
  • Complementing the international efforts, Visit Bellevue has enlisted celebrated chef Shota Nakajima, with roots in Bellevue and Japan, to spearhead a new culinary tourism initiative in Bellevue, according to Sheila Freeman, director of marketing and communications at Visit Bellevue. He’ll lead culinary writers on a gastronomical tour of Bellevue highlighting premier establishments with bilingual content, and lead a chef showcase event and culinary festival this fall.
  • Separately, Visit Bellevue is planning walking food tours, also likely starting in the fall.
  • Waterfall and wine tours are on the itinerary, too, providing a chance to sip local wines while marveling at waterfalls.
  • Also launching, Bike Hop, for electric bike tours throughout the city that will diversify how visitors get around, and also support Bellevue’s sustainability initiatives, complementing other efforts like the BellHop electric shuttle.
  • Off land, Visit Bellevue plans to start electric boat tours on Lake Washington.
  • Visit Bellevue also plans wider coverage of its mobile welcome center, Scout, outside Bellevue.
  • The organization also will double the number of interactive visitor information kiosks — which offer real-time information on dining, tours, transportation, and more — to six hotels, where they’re placed at or near front desks.

The efforts represent Visit Bellevue “expanding its horizons,” Jones said, calling that the theme of the meeting.

Dancing Belles

The Memphis Belles, a vintage vocal trio inspired by the Andrew Sisters, perform at Visit Bellevue’s annual meeting.

“Our fundamental activity of attracting visitors sets off a chain reaction of economic benefits,” he said. “Destination-development promotion builds on awareness, burnishing our brand, and driving incremental visitor spending that generates businesses, jobs, and taxes. If we build a place where people want to visit, we also build a place where people want to live. If we build a place where people want to live, we build a place where people want to work. If we build a place where people want to work, we build a place where businesses need to be.”

Added Jones, “It all starts with a visit, and that visit must be promoted, supported, curated, and developed. It is through that repeating process over and over that Visit Bellevue helps our community achieve its goals. This virtuous cycle of destination development and promotion improves residents’ quality of life, supports government services, encourages workforce development, and builds a broad economic base.”

Among tourism’s impacts, it directly employs more than 14,000 workers in the city and generates more than $112 million in tax revenue.

2 Line

Arthur Bachus, systems engagement specialist for Sound Transit, shared information on the new 2 Line light rail service launching on Saturday between south Bellevue and the Redmond Technology Station. Sound Transit had a table set up outside the Visit Bellevue meeting.


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