Website opens eyes of tourists to the region

By Gordon Oliver, Columbian Business Editor



It’s an age-old question for tourists — how do I get away from other tourists to find someplace authentic?

Two local travel companies — one in Vancouver and one in Portland — aim to give local visitors suggestions on places to go and things to do all across the Northwest. Their new website, Best of the Northwest, features conventional tour and cruise information, as well as tips on food, entertainment, shopping and lodging that is off the beaten patch of urban and rural tourist attractions.

The website is targeted to serve an audience of visitors, often arriving on packaged tours on land or on Columbia River cruises, whose ramblings could take them anywhere in the Northwest. While the low-budget site is off to a modest start in its early months, its developers hope that it soon will be populated with links to local food and drinking venues, hotels, shops, restaurants, and activities. To get things moving, they’re inviting businesses to post information at no charge that will remain on the site for six months.

“We look at how to get the businesses connected with visitors,” said David Penilton, owner of America’s Hub World Tours in Portland. “We try to touch with as many (businesses) as we can so they’re getting some of the impact of the people coming in.”

Penilton’s partner in the website venture is Cindy Anderson of USA River Cruises, based in Vancouver. Although there are countless travel websites, she’s found that many of the people she and other travel professionals work with want something that offers a Northwest region-wide perspective on interesting things to do and places to go outside of major cities.

“Everybody has a different website, but nobody has something that covers the entire Northwest,” Anderson said.

Southwest Washington attractions popular with cruise and packaged-tour visitors are Mount St. Helens, Fort Vancouver, and the Pendleton Woolen Mills Washougal Mill Store, Penilton said. Visitors from outside the area also are interested in city tours, wineries, and scenic attractions, he added.

The project has been years in the making, Penilton said, with changes along the way in website design and plenty of discussions with businesses who might take advantage of the site. He and Anderson shared the conviction that a resource such as the Best of the Northwest website is needed even though they serve very different clients — Anderson primarily sells cruise ship tours while some of Penilton’s work is with travel agents and tour operators who are organizing conferences and conventions.

The two travel operators are working with Business Oregon and Travel Portland, among others, to attract more businesses and to bring it to the attention of travelers. Penilton said he will be promoting the website among travel planners at a major symposium in Portland next spring.

While chain restaurants and retailers are not excluded from promoting their businesses on the site, Anderson said her focus it to help promote small, locally-owned businesses. She hopes to cover costs of the website but doesn’t see it as a venture intended to generate significant profit for either of its founders. Rather, Anderson said, the goal is to help build up the local tourism industry in a way that will benefit the local economy.

“In the long run, this will be a good thing for a lot of people,” she said.