This year is shaping up to be a banner year for tourism in Grant County.
The Kam Wah Chung State State Heritage Site and the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument both report they are drawing a steady stream of visitors, with the numbers exceeding past years’ totals even for May.
Despite some unusually damp spring weather, local motels and restaurants also report busy early-season tourist traffic. And at the Grant County Chamber of Commerce office in John Day, Office Manager Tammy Bremner and her cadre of volunteers have been greeting a steadily growing parade of visitors to the county as summer nears.
The Tesla car-charging station outside the office has been a great convenience for some travelers, as evidenced by occasional lineups there. As a side benefit, the folks charging up have time to visit local businesses and stock up on tips about local attractions from chamber volunteers.
Several factors seem to be boosting tourism here. The state’s “Seven Wonders of Oregon” tourism campaign a couple of years ago spotlighted the Fossil Beds as one of the state’s star attractions, and the 2017 solar eclipse mania also sparked interest in the area — even among folks who didn’t travel here to see the event, but merely heard about our clear skies.
In addition to the expected vacationers and outdoor enthusiasts from across the state and region, there’s been an intriguing uptick in Dutch visitors — a boost attributed to “The Mole,” a reality game show that filmed in Oregon two years ago and gained acclaim in The Netherlands.
Here at the chamber, we’ve been doing our best to promote the beauty, recreational opportunities, cultural attributes and history of Grant County. The chamber board of directors has developed a marketing approach that includes ads in regional travel publications; an app for travelers coming our way; targeted outreach to groups including snowmobilers, cyclists and motorcyclists; and even a new billboard promoting Highway 26 as the best route through Oregon.
But the chamber’s role is not just to bring tourists in, but also to help local businesses connect with and benefit from that influx. The chamber board is committed to helping communities and businesses throughout Grant County achieve those benefits as it fits their goals.
One new program in the works is a coupon book for visitors. Member businesses will be able to submit a coupon offering to include in the booklet, with the savings of their choice and at no charge to the business. The coupon books, distributed to visitors at local lodging outlets and the chamber office, will be a new way to encourage visitors to stop in local businesses and communities, rather than just passing by.
We’ll also include a survey in the booklet, so we can glean more facts about what draws visitors to Grant County and their experiences here.
This is in addition to our Grant County Greenbacks program, which also supports local spending. Here’s how it works: Businesses and individuals can buy the greenbacks as gifts or incentives and rewards — for employees, friends, grandkids, visitors and more. The recipient can use them at any chamber member business just like a coupon; the business then redeems them from the Chamber on a dollar-for-dollar basis. It’s a great way to encourage people to shop locally.
Since the program started four years ago, the chamber has redeemed more than $20,000 in greenbacks — essentially a no-cost program that keeps dollars right here in Grant County.
The chamber board is constantly looking for new ways to bolster the local economy. For example, the board recently approved becoming a platinum sponsor for one of our county’s signature events, the Grant County Fair. We look forward to helping promote this great event!
In the coming year, we will be expanding our support for other events countywide. Our budget for fiscal 2019-20 proposes new funding for sponsorships of city-sanctioned events throughout the county such as the Fourth of July celebrations in Dayville, Prairie City and Monument. These kinds of events are terrific for the communities, and also great reasons for people to visit from out of county.
In addition, the chamber continues to offer grants for tourism-related events and economic development through the countywide Transient Room Tax. Taxes paid by lodging customers are used to help promote events that bring in more tourism, which benefits our restaurants, motels and other businesses. More information on the application process is available from the chamber office.
While tourism is usually job one for the chamber, we are also on the lookout for improvements that will help our economy in other ways. For example, over the past year, chamber President Bruce Ward and other board members have been in touch with state legislators and agency heads to seek solutions to the delays in building inspections that hamper our ability to build structures, open businesses and upgrade our commercial areas. We’re hopeful that solutions can be forged to remove this roadblock and help Grant County grow.
These are just a few of the exciting developments underway now at your Grant County Chamber of Commerce. If you want to learn more about these programs and the goals of the chamber, contact our Office Manager Tammy Bremner or any of the volunteers who serve on the chamber’s board: Bruce Ward, Jerry Franklin, Taci Philbrook, Scotta Callister, Shannon Adair, David Driscoll, Greg Armstrong, Sally Knowles, Amber Wright, Sherrie Rininger, Didgette McCracken and Kim Randleas.