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Port steers into media blitz

The Port of Cascade Locks has launched a new advertising campaign to fill the decks of its paddlewheel — a move that is intended to benefit other businesses as well.

“We are not just marketing the sternwheeler, we are marketing the Gorge,” said Chuck Daughtry, port director.

The new media blitz for the Sternwheeler “Columbia Gorge” includes commercials at five Portland/Vancouver theaters, posting of a billboard at the western entrance to the Gorge and signs atop the Bridge of the Gods and the Bradford Island Dock at Bonneville Lock and Dam. In addition, the port acquired prime kiosk space at Multnomah Falls that is being used to display a large poster and offer brochures to some of the two million tourists each year.

Daughtry said the port’s new advertising philosophy is “simple,” very similar to throwing a rock into a pool of water and starting a ripple effect that fans outward. The first step, he said, is to “saturate” the local marketplace to catch the eye of visitors, who will then ride the boat and share their experience with others.

“The emphasis on marketing and selling the sternwheeler needs to be focused on the Gorge,” said Daughtry, the former director of finance at the Port of Vancouver.

After he was hired in July of 2001, Daughtry immediately undertook a cost and use analysis for keeping the sternwheeler in its homeport. Once he had reviewed all available data, Daughtry agreed with the port commission that the cost of operating and staffing a metro sales office was eating away the ship’s profit margin. So the decision was made to operate the vessel from Cascade Locks 11 months out of the year and only take it to Portland during the Christmas season. However, Daughtry also envisions even that short holiday stay being eliminated if the port can convince the Cascade Locks community to participate in a special lighting display that will allow visitors to enjoy the winter splendor of the Gorge.

Once the Portland office was closed and operations were moved to Cascade Locks last August, Daughtry said Roeder was hired to utilize her 10 years of hospitality expertise, most recently with the Skamania Lodge destination resort. She immediately helped redesign the sternwheeler brochures to replace the inside view of downtown Portland with text and photos centered on Gorge landmarks.

The port commission also then authorized more than $8,000 in employee training that focused exclusively on customer service. A local wine expert has also given instruction on presentation and sales techniques.

Once things began to settle down on the homefront, Daughtry and Roeder teamed up to visit business owners in Cascade Locks, Hood River and, on the Washington shoreline, in Stevenson and Bingen/White Salmon. Their request has been simple; put up one of colorful sternwheeler posters and take a free ride on the ship so that employees can answer visitor questions.

In return, the port has agreed to post information about available Gorge services on the kiosk in the Cascade Locks visitor’s center — and to buy as many local products for the dinner cruises as possible. Already, the new wine list highlights Mid-Columbia vineyards and the bar serves two local microbrews. The band “Djangoes Cadillac” from The Dalles has been hired to perform during dinner dance cruises.

Daughtry said the sternwheeler chefs are now working to develop a specialty dessert using Hood River pears as part of their buffet menu.

“The purpose of the port is to provide economic benefits for local communities,” said Daughtry. “We believe that by operating primarily in the Gorge the sternwheeler can be more profitable, more efficient and that we can have a better, more consistent experience for our passengers.”

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