Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Oregon’s largest city has a long way to go to restore its reputation

PORTLAND, Oregon (AP). Portland’s “badly tainted” reputation, marked by months of devastating protests, a homeless crisis and a record year of murder, is undermining the reputation of Oregon’s largest city, according to the city’s top tourism promoter.

Travel Portland, a city tourism development group funded in part by taxes, this week provided the city council and mayor with data showing the city has fallen to its “lowest level” to be a likely destination for delegates to attend conferences. Only 64% of the tourists surveyed said they would visit Portland again.

“There is an old old saying:” It takes a lifetime to earn a reputation, and it can be destroyed in an instant. ” This is true of cities because they are people, ”Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said in response to Travel Portland’s data. “And we just need to be committed to this long-term process of improving the safety, convenience and economic prosperity of the city.”

The liberal city has long been renowned nationally for its ambrosian cuisine, craft breweries and nature-loving hipsters. But last year it became the epicenter of protests against racial justice following the assassination of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis.

For months, the small city center was engulfed in often violent protests, with clashes between protesters and federal agents, streams of tear gas, fireworks exploding in the streets, and rubber bullets flying through the air.

While violent protests in Portland have largely eased, outbreaks are still taking place, including earlier this month. While picketing a murdered activist who was killed two years ago, a crowd of 100 smashed shop windows, ignited fires in garbage cans and caused at least $ 500,000 in damage to city buildings and businesses.

Travel Portland has released data collected by MMGY Travel Intelligence. A travel research and consulting company asked people how likely they were to attend a meeting, conference or convention – for business or pleasure – in Portland over the next 24 months. A question was asked about 21 different destinations, and Portland was “at the very bottom” of the list.

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The survey found that half of the event organizers and two-thirds of the participants surveyed recently indicated that their “likelihood” of signing up for or attending meetings in the city over the next two years was significantly influenced by the “visibility” of racial and social protests.

“As a result, we probably won’t even get the opportunity to bid on many conventions over the next two years, which will impact our long-term success going forward,” said Jeff Miller, President and CEO of Travel Portland.

Portland Commissioner Dan Ryan said one of his friends, who recently volunteered to attend the convention, wrote to him about her experiences with visitors who felt unsafe in the city.

The woman told Ryan that “it was very depressing to be approached by so many people who looked angry that we even allowed ourselves to have a big convention … as if we weren’t ready for it.”

While the most recent consumer research in Portland found that the likely rate of return of visitors to the city has improved over the previous year, this rate was lower than in surveys conducted before the pandemic and protests.

Occupancy in central Portland city hotels has also improved since the outbreak of the pandemic, but Miller said the number of hotel room bookings in September lagged behind 14 competing travel cities tracked by Travel Portland, excluding Minneapolis and San Francisco.

“The recovery is happening somewhere else, but not here,” Miller said.

Portland is in the midst of a homeless crisis, with local businesses, organizations and residents urging the city to do something about it – in the form of additional housing, mental health resources, cleaning and public safety.

At a recent city council meeting, workers in the Portland area, with many health service buildings, shared their experiences with staff and patients with a large homeless camp nearby.

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“The first thing they see is trash, vans and tents blocking our sidewalks, and discarded drug supplies,” said Sonia Bouchard, director of operations at the East at Gateway Oregon Gastroenterology Clinic. “They are often yelled at, they are approached for money, and in some cases they are threatened.”

Employees often witness erratic behavior, fights, nudity and drug use, she said. Patients told staff that they did not feel safe and some decided to change doctors.

“We’ve added fencing and security,” said Dr. Harry Bray. “But at the moment we feel that we cannot improve the situation and we need your help.”

The growing homelessness crisis has already affected some important events in the city.

In the summer, Oregon’s largest annual golfing event was moved from Portland and from the vicinity of the sprawling homeless camp to the sprawling suburb of West Lynn.

The city is also experiencing its worst year, with at least 69 homicides recorded this year in Portland, surpassing the previous year’s record of 66 homicides set in 1987.

Despite the hardships, Wheeler insisted that the city was resilient and that, with “great difficulty,” Portland would once again become a safe and desirable travel destination.

Travel Portland has stepped up marketing for the city, but officials said more is needed and the City expects windfall profits to come soon in the form of anticipated $ 60 million in additional funding that the City Council could use as it sees fit, including promotion tourism and efforts to make the city more attractive and safer.

“I’m not saying stop marketing, but right now people are not buying it,” Wheeler said. “They want to see these results. They want to see action. “


Sarah Kline is a member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that directs journalists to local newsrooms to cover hidden issues.

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