As the Eastside continues to grow, so does tourism — and it’s a boon for the entire region’s economy.
In May, Visit Bellevue Washington, Bellevue’s destination marketing organization, hosted its biennial Tourism Spotlight. The event highlighted the recent business and travel activity in the area, and according to the organization, tourism is booming.
From 2015 to 2016, for example, Visit Bellevue said the city saw a 14 percent increase in visitors, a 20 percent increase in overnight visitors, and a total of $762 million in visitor spending on everything from dining and entertainment, to shopping and outdoor recreation.
As tourism continues to grow, local industries are benefiting. And at the top of the food chain is hospitality. But what exactly is driving this growth? Eastside experts say there are a few factors at play.
“One of the things that drives tourism in Bellevue in general is the strong corporate market,” said Sharon Linton, marketing and communications manager for Visit Bellevue. “That is certainly what’s keeping the hotels full mid-week, Monday-Thursday nights. They are really at a high-level of occupancy, and they’ve been able to drive rates, which is part of why the spending level is also up.”
While the corporate market as a whole is supporting tourism growth on the Eastside, the tech sector specifically is playing a significant role in leveraging the number of visitors to the area.
“Tourism is growing on the Eastside, and from my perspective, the high-tech sector is a big feeder market for us,” said Doug Rigoni, CEO of Coast Hotels, USA, which operates Hotel 116 in Bellevue. “The high-tech companies have really, really driven strong business demand for us on the Eastside.”
Stacy Graven, executive director for Visit Bellevue, agrees. “When you look at the corporations that are in Bellevue, the tech sector is driving quite a bit of that. So, they’re bringing a lot of people in from out of town for their particular businesses,” Graven said.
As more people visit Bellevue and the rest of the Eastside for business, others are coming to experience everything else the blossoming region has to offer.
“The hotel business on the Eastside is going through a real change, and that change is its own identity,” said Rigoni. “In the past, the Eastside hospitality business was sort of an afterthought. It was like, if Seattle’s full, well then Bellevue would get more business. But now, some people would rather be in Bellevue, and that’s the kind of change that I think we’re going to see more and more of.”
To better accommodate this growth, a handful of new hotels already have opened in the past several months, and more are slated to open this summer. Hampton Inn & Suites, for example, opened in Redmond in early 2017, and the W Bellevue celebrated its grand opening June 15. This summer, Bellevue also will see the opening of AC Hotel Bellevue, and Hyatt Regency Lake Washington in Renton’s Southport is accepting reservations for stays beginning August 1.
However, with more hotels saturating the market, existing hotels have had to find creative ways to differentiate themselves. At Hotel 116, for example, Rigoni is focused on establishing a hyperlocal atmosphere.
“At Hotel 116, we try and be local. We’re trying not to be the big brand where you’re going to find the same room that you can find in any city,” he said. “That’s really where we set ourselves aside.”
With several new hotels in Bellevue and the surrounding area, Visit Bellevue Washington especially is eager to watch occupancies.
“What will be really interesting to watch more than anything else is we have some fantastic new properties coming into town,” said Linton. “It will be really interesting for us over the course of this next year to see how that supply is absorbed in the marketplace and what it does to the rates that hotels are charging and so forth.”
As area hotels attract new visitors, celebrate grand openings, and continue to make names for themselves on the Eastside, Rigoni said he’s most excited about the name Bellevue — and the entire Eastside — has made for itself over the years.
“It’s become much more about the experience,” Rigoni said, “so it’s much more of an exciting place than it had been in the past. And I think that’s why you’re seeing such an explosion in the growth of the hotel industry (here), because the hotels here are all catching up with the demand in the marketplace.”