The new Travel Southern Oregon Coast tourism board is getting underway, noting that it works in alignment with other tourism groups, chambers of commerce and committees that are not replicating each others’ efforts to attract visitors to the coast.

Interim Director Jon-Paul Bowles made a presentation to Curry County commissioners Wednesday outlining the history of the group, how much money tourism brings to the state, its project goals and how it hopes to close the visitor spending gap between Curry and Coos counties and the rest of the state.

“We want to make this area a bucket-list destination for outdoor enthusiasts from Seattle, Portland, San Francisco,” Bowles said. “We want to work most heavily in creating experiences, and we measure success by how well business does, jobs and tax money (generated).”

Travel Southern Oregon Coast (TSOC) started as a venture between Coos County and Bandon Dunes Golf Course in 2014, and has evolved through Travel Oregon, the statewide tourism group.

The group joins Travel Oregon, a semi-independent agency created by the Oregon Legislature in 2003 to market the state; Oregon Coast Visitors Association that markets events and activities in all Oregon’s coastal cities; the Wild Rivers Coast that promotes the stretch from Bandon to Klamath, California, and the efforts of city tourism committees and chambers of commerce.

“We’re like Russian nesting dolls,” Bowles said. “There’s Travel Oregon, then the Oregon Coast Visitor Association, then us. I assure you, we are all aligned and not duplicitous.”

He said the difference between that group and all the others is that it was born out of an engagement with Travel Oregon, whereas others often jump on a short-term plan and run out of steam when it’s complete.

“It’s like a big funnel, with Travel Oregon’s marketing and sales in the tens of millions of dollars,” he explained. “They reach out with their megaphone to get people to Oregon. Then OCVA has seven regional areas to let people know how great the experience on the coast is in general; and then there’s us. We specific advocate from Reedsport to Brookings to promote those experiences.”

They are in the process of developing plans to “continually push” information to the public by feeding content to Travel Oregon’s channels.

The biggest challenges they face is that towns compete with one another.

“Our goal is, first let’s get people to the South Coast,” Bowles said. “Then, let’s let them know what experiences they can have in Port Orford, or Gold Beach or Brookings. It’s a much more humble approach.”

Bowles said in 2016, 28.4 million overnight visitors helped bring $11.3 billion to the state. There was a 10.5 percent increase in people arriving by plane, and they created an estimated 56,900 jobs — and another 109,500 in ancillary jobs — worth $2.6 billion to local economies.

Per capita, tourists spent $5 million in Curry County, he said, or about $100 a day, in lodging, restaurants, transportation needs and retail purchases.

But the Oregon average is $170 per person per day — the gap TSOC plans to try to close.

A survey showed what visitors would most like to see are more bike routes with corresponding signs and shuttles, water adventures and farm tours.

Brookings is piggybacking on the popularity of the Oregon Coast Bike Route that runs parallel or on U.S. 101 from Astoria to the California border. The city recently dedicated space for bicyclists on the new portion of Railroad Street and would like to install kiosks and bike racks to encourage a “bike friendly” atmosphere in town.

The growing popularity of mountain biking, too, prompted the group that was to become TSOC to start to build Whiskey Run, a $1 million, 30-mile single-track system northeast of Bandon Dunes. Currently, 10 miles of the trail has been constructed.

The trail, deemed to be the first year-round single-track in the state, could bring in as much as $1 million a year in revenue to local businesses.

Part of that trail was built under a pilot program using local youth, giving them experience in outdoor recreation.

“It’s especially cool that, not only are we creating outdoor recreation, but are helping local youth build skills that make them more employable,” Bowles said.

Another trail, funded by a $250,000 grant from Regional Solutions, will forge a trail through the Humbug Mountain area to keep through-hikers off a narrow, winding and dangerous section of the highway in that canyon.

Water trails are being developed on rivers near Coquille to showcase the myrtlewood trees, local ecology and history. Plans were made to provide stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, bird-watching, camping and fishing on eight sections of the 41 miles of river from Coquille to Bandon. The possibility of ferry boat tours was listed in the long-term plans.

Cultural tour options explored include old canneries and dairy farms, lumber mills and ship-building shops.

Another group working with Travel Oregon, the Rural Tourism Studio, developed in 2014 a plan to develop farm “trails” that provide tourists with information so they can visit and dine in the places their food is grown.

“I love the relationships I get to have throughout Coos and Curry counties,” Bowles said. “I meet people who are really vested in the communities. I love to see people get on board, particularly elected officials, and show them that tourism is actually economic development, an economic driver in Oregon.”

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