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Destination development: getting people to stay

With Crater Lake National Park hosting three-quarters of a million people annually, it’s time to disperse those visitors around Southern Oregon, Brad Niva told a Chamber of Medford/Jackson County Forum audience Monday.

“Rumor has it Crater Lake now is full, we can’t take any more visitors. Turn around go the other way,” Niva deadpanned. “We don’t want to say that, of course, but what we do need to say is that Crater Lake is a great asset, but we have so many more to share.”

Niva, executive director at Travel Southern Oregon, said a primary goal is to lure I-5 travelers to linger.

“Right now we’re averaging about 2.2 nights for the normal visitor,” Niva said. “We’d like to get that over three nights. That means we have more impact to our region and we’re also developing fans, making new Oregonians.”

The idea is for Crater Lake visitors to also take in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Britt Festivals, visit wineries, hike and bike.

“We call that destination development,” Niva said. “Building out the product we have to share and show the best of what Southern Oregon has to offer.”

Eli Matthews, senior vice president at Travel Medford, said hotel and motel stays and transient tax receipts are trending up 11.2 percent, and should top $4 million for the fiscal year that ends June 30.

“We really need to start seeing ourselves as a world-class, premier destination,” Matthews said. “A destination with extreme potential. If we begin to think like this, know this, and act like this, consequently we’ll continue to see product development, investment and phenomenal growth into the future.”

While the vast majority of Medford visitors drive from Northern Oregon or Northern California, there is new recognition that air travel is playing an increasing role.

“We are beginning to partner more with airlines in different states to make sure we have that fluidity with all the additional flights,” Matthews said.

Is there a strategy to keep business travelers in Medford for an extra day?

“We’re coming to realize more and more in terms of Medford and the Rogue Valley, that we’re the hub, we’re the heart,” Matthews said.

He said business and commerce are an increasing component of local hotel activity.

“The truth is that the reason a huge percent of the people are coming to town is business,” Matthews said. “We’re talking about how to touch those people and do some ‘come back’ campaigns and make sure we’re reaching out not just to the leisure traveler but also the business traveler.

At the Oregon Governor’s Conference on Tourism two weeks ago, Matthews said, when polled on whether organizations such as Travel Medford should promote cannabis tourism, two-thirds of the 100 respondents said no.

“Right now, we’re not promoting cannabis, Matthews said. “We can’t ignore it, and we’re kind of taking a wait-and-see approach and time will tell. Kind of what we’re leaning toward is focusing on the education piece of it, letting people know the legalities as it changes state to state.”

Local organizations continue to find new ways to attract visitors to the area.

Standing in for Medford Mayor Gary Wheeler, City Councilor Michael Zarosinski presented the annual Mayor’s Award to Medford Comic Con.

The award recognizes organizations contributing to local economic activity by drawing people to the region.

The event is an outgrowth of the Medford library’s summer reading program. The inaugural Comic Con “Every Hero has a Story” drew 2,000 in July of 2015.

Attendance has ratcheted up regularly, with 5,000 attending an expanded event in 2016 and 12,000 in 2017.

Last month, a two-day version attracted more than 18,000 people to the library and the Rogue Community College campus.

It’s the only free comic convention on the West Coast and the largest library program in Oregon history.

Laura Kimberly, Jackson County Library’s assistant director of branch operations and youth services, is project manager for the Medford Comic Con.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or gstiles@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness or www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.

Eli Matthews