Historically, tourism in the Puget Sound region has centered on Seattle and its signature visitor attractions: Pike Place Market, the Space Needle, and the central waterfront downtown. But the Eastside has become a tourist destination in its own right, spurring the construction of new hotels, generating tourism-related tax revenue, and representing a sizable slice of the Eastside economy.

What is it like to be involved in pioneering the Eastside’s tourism economy?

For answers, we turned to tourism professionals in three different cities for their insights into what makes their tourism economies hum.

Brad Jones | Executive Director, Visit Bellevue

Photo by Alabastro Photography.

big trend is the explosion of supply in hotels. Bellevue had a 10 percent increase in the number of hotel rooms in 2018 over 2017. We had a little over 2.1 million overnight visitors in 2018. We have just over 5,500 hotel rooms. Our strength is midweek, and that is led by the corporate sector. The market (for hotel stays) is somewhere between 50 and 65 percent corporate travelers between Monday and Thursday. 

We will have a new InterContinental Hotel in the ground this summer. There are a lot of what I would call prospective (hotel-development) projects. By 2022 or 2023, we are going to be looking at a 15 percent spike, maybe more on the high end — maybe 25 percent (more) new hotel rooms. 

A danger in our business is complacency. It would be easy to sit back and say, “Oh, we are building all these great things, and we are becoming iconic.” We are not going to be complacent. We are going to be ultracompetitive on the packaging and experience sides. In the coming years, we are going to be building a lot of new programs to take our city to new heights as far as customer service, experience, marketing, and communications to drive the market. 

When people want to put a new business in a city, it starts with a visit. They must have a great experience and see the vision of a city before they start investing. We look at ourselves as creating a really good experience for people. If they are here for corporate reasons, they look around and say, “This would be a really great place to set up shop.” — As told to Todd Matthews 


James Lopez | Assistant City Manager, City of Kirkland

City of Kirkland

Business travelers are extending their business trips to add leisure days — or “Bleisure” travel. This is a great way for hotels to get an extra night or two booked while the traveler visits additional businesses and restaurants during their stay.

Kirkland’s tourism program, established in 2002, has seen positive year-over-year growth as measured by the 1 percent lodging tax collection. The only exception to this was during the 2009 recession. Since 2002, Kirkland has more than tripled its lodging revenue. 

We’ve shifted our business profile over the past decade. Prerecession, we had an art focus with 13 galleries. Now, we offer a more diverse visitor experience focused on outdoor opportunities such as our lakeside parks, marinas, and the multi-use Cross Kirkland Corridor intersecting the city. Mature travelers are seeking out more active experiences on their vacations, from paddle boarding to kayaking to bike rentals, for example.

With the boom of Washington wine over the past decade and Kirkland’s proximity to Woodinville wine country, Kirkland has expanded its tasting rooms. — As told to Todd Matthews

Leveraging Lodging Tax

Since 2002, the City of Kirkland has collected a 1 percent excise tax from short-term stays at hotels and motels in the city, and deposited the money into a Lodging Tax Fund. More than $650,000 has been used over the past 16 years to fund a variety of programs that aim to bolster the city’s tourism-related economic activity. Here is a closer look at the tax revenue generated, as well as some of the programs funded, in recent years:

Nancy Ousley | Assistant City Manager, City of Kenmore

City of Kenmore

A tourism economy for the City of Kenmore is relatively new — Kenmore has only been a city for 20 years — but the concept is rapidly picking up steam. We do not have much lodging, and don’t even have a lodging tax. But Kenmore is becoming a destination. 

Seeing the need for a high-quality hotel, we lobbied for and worked with Washington State Parks to save the historic Saint Edward Seminary. The Lodge at Saint Edward State Park will be finished in 2020, offer 81 rooms and meeting spaces, and be managed by Columbia Hospitality. 

With challenging traffic conditions in the Puget Sound area, more commuters are moving to cycling and transit. Kenmore is in a perfect location right on the Burke-Gilman Trail. We are capturing that bike and pedestrian traffic, enticing them to stop in Kenmore for food, drinks, and entertainment at breweries along the trail, often referred to as Brew Row. Three breweries — Cairn Brewing, Nine Yards Brewing Company, and 192 Brewing Company — appeal to recreation and commute trail users, but also host family-friendly events that bring people and sales tax dollars into our city. It makes economic sense for us to partner with — and promote — the breweries. — As told to Todd Matthews

Tourism Takes Flight

Kenmore Hanger
Andrew Pogue Photography

In 2018, the City of Kenmore hosted 14 community events – such as concerts, movies, and food trucks – that drew 12,000 people.

A new community space and coffee shop, The Hangar, hosted almost 600 events last year, with 40% of the events booked by
out-of-town visitors.