"New Executive Director, New Name, New Focus and New Attractions Drive Convention & Visitor Bureau in New Year"

“Tacoma is preparing for a larger, more active role in the Washington tourism industry, and Ruthie Reinert is ready for the challenges that will bring. Reinert is the newly appointed president and executive director of the Tacoma-Pierce County Convention and Visitor Bureau. If you thought you noticed a change in the bureau’s name from Visitor and Convention Bureau, you’re right. The change is because of a new emphasis on the convention end of the industry by the bureau, which is ramping up their efforts to maximize the potential of Tacoma’s new convention center, slated to open in 2002. With 20 years in the tourism industry of the Pacific Northwest, Reinert joined the bureau three years ago. In late November 1999, she was chosen to head the organization. She had been the bureau’s director of sales prior to being named for the top position, and she said the staff of the bureau has a high level of quality and commitment to helping the tourism industry of Tacoma-Pierce County. Reinert said she likes the new City of Tacoma economic development slogan #1 Wired City, but added that City officials understand it will have a limited shelf life. It doesn’t include tourism in its message, but she said the businesses and organizations involved in the area’s tourism industry need to get together and create a similar form of branding to draw visitors to the Tacoma-Pierce County area. We have a fabulous hub here, Reinert said, noting that Tacoma makes a sensible base for Washington visitors visiting Mount Rainier – the most visited tourist attraction in the state, the Olympic, the Yakima wine country, and Seattle. Our location lends itself to seeing the state. In March, Reinert will be in Berlin representing Washington as well as Tacoma-Pierce County at the largest travel show in continental Europe. According to state tourism statistics, Reinert noted that Germany was third highest in countries with visitors coming inbound to Washington after Japan and the United Kingdom. We’ve partnered with Washington State on other travel missions, Reinert said. They recognize I have statewide knowledge. The Berlin show includes five days of appointments with tour operators, and travel writers from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. They’re looking for tourist destination information, Reinert said, adding that cities like New York and Los Angeles are starting to lose some of their novelty and appeal for Europeans with five weeks or more of vacation. Tourists are looking for something different, Reinert said, and this is the place that can give it to them. I’m amazed at how much interest there is in the Pacific Northwest, Reinert said. She added that the blend of natural wonders and cultural activities provide an attractive mix. But, Reinert added, Washington is not doing enough to realize the potential of its tourism industry. She said Washington ranks 44th out of the 49 continental states in the U.S. in travel and tourism marketing spending. Tourism is not funded here to the extent of other states, Reinert said. We compete nationwide. Part of the problem is the lack of recognition of the tourism industry as a revenue generator. For every $1 spent in tourism marketing, Reinert argued, there is a $25 return in money spent in the state’s economy. The bureau and its counterparts statewide are lobbying the legislature to increase awareness of the potential for increased revenue generation in the state. However, they are coming up against problems caused by Initiative 695 and creative budgeting by legislators who have even proposed taking some money normally dedicated to tourism marketing to pay for slashed programs. Tourism promotion needs to be funded, Reinert said. Marketing money brings in revenue. Reinert argued that tourism complements local business and is an opportunity for local businesses to build market share and augment their local customer base. Projects such as the construction of the new convention center are not political ploys, she said, but are necessary. She said the bureau has documented over a period of years, groups unable to hold their conferences in Tacoma because of a lack of larger facilities. The existing convention center is 14,000-square feet, Reinert said. There are hotels in SeaTac (with convention facilities) bigger than that. Having additional space available at the Tacoma Dome Exhibition Hall and Landmark Theater doesn’t make up for that, Reinert said. Groups are seeking unified space, not to be spread out around town with additional transportation headaches. Reinert is a nationally designated certified tourism professional, works with state government on state tourism promotion, and is on the Tourism Advisory Board at Highline Community College. Tacoma-Pierce County Tourism FactsThree largest countries for inbound tourists to Washington: Japan; United Kingdom; GermanyWashington’s National Ranking in Tourism Marketing Funding: 44th out of 49 continental statesReturn on every $1 spent in tourism marketing: $25Source of funding for Tacoma-Pierce County Convention & Visitor Bureau: Hotel/Motel Tax: 60 percent; Private Support: 40 percentTacoma-Pierce County Convention & Visitor Bureau Annual Budget: $900,000 (approximately)Number of Visitor’s Guides to Tacoma-Pierce County published this year: 100,000Number of convention and meeting planners prospected by Tacoma-Pierce County Convention & Visitor Bureau: 2,000 (approximately)Dollar amount of convention business booked by bureau last year: Over $9 millionNumber of volunteers for Visitor Information Centers overseen by Tacoma-Pierce County Convention & Visitor Bureau: 60 (approximately)Number of hits on bureau’s tourism web site last month: 2,000Square footage of existing convention center: 14,000Square footage of new convention center: 92,000”