When the Hood River business community found out in February that Gorge Games 2003 had been cancelled, the focus quickly shifted to promoting the Columbia River Gorge as a tourist destination.
But, as luck would have it, much of the work that needed to be done had already been completed — or at least concepted — by the Hood River County Chamber of Commerce.
“This program doesn’t have to be built from the ground up,” said the chamber’s Public Affairs and Marketing Director Genevieve Scholl. “A lot of the efforts have already begun.”
Back in 2000, Scholl and Craig Schmidt, the chamber’s Executive Director, instituted a five-year plan to market Hood River County as a tourist destination.
They called the campaign “Discover Your Next Adventure,” and divided it into three distinct areas of agriculture/tourism, outdoors/adventure sports, and cultural/natural history.
“We needed to define a cohesive image that answered the question, ‘what are we?’” Scholl said. “All three tiers are very strong here, and our goal was to push all three together.”
Scholl and Schmidt began with a plan for a new media kit, and have garnered plenty of interest from all three categories of local tourism, as well as a host of local businesses who wanted to help answer the “what are we?” question.
Local design company Pageworks was contracted to handle the design and layout of the new brochure, while Hood River Technology created the campaign’s new Web site, www.hoodriver.org.
In addition, local photographer Peter Marbach provided over 100 images to the project — all of which will be included on a CD for the media kit and sent to travel writers and editors with an interest in covering the area.
“No matter who you are or what your business is, you will feel like our brochure and our Web site match your focus,” said Schmidt. “We are the envy of the state right now.”
The “Discover Your Next Adventure” campaign has also delved into the world of video, which is being handled by Lightwave Communications.
The chamber believes video will provide excellent exposure to the area, and that it should increase the chance of television coverage from the Portland market.
“We’re not marketing a product, we’re marketing a destination,” Scholl said. “The image library, the Web site and the video have done wonders for us. Now it’s up to our members to help sell the ‘product,’ which is all the lodging, dining, events, attractions and activities in Hood River County.”
But how does one get involved in the Gorge’s newest and most vibrant tourism campaign?
“The first thing is to join the chamber,” Schmidt said. “We have the staff, the materials and the funding — all of which will help you promote your business.
“The second thing to remember is that the chamber isn’t the only one that can do this kind of promotion. The program is open to anyone, and we’re always looking to work with new groups in the community,” he said.
The chamber has access to approximately $300,000 per year in transient room taxes, and a good portion of that money is available to local businesses through grants.
“We have donated a total of $58,000 to the Fruit Loop, and another $3,000 to the Gorge Games last year,” Schmidt said.
The Columbia Gorge Windsurfing Association has also benefitted greatly from this fund, as well as First Friday and the annual Fiesta Days celebration in Odell.
Schmidt and Scholl recommend that if groups of local businesses can unify themselves — like the Upper Valley, Mid Valley, Heights and Downtown business associations — it becomes much easier for them to communicate with the chamber.
“Our ears are always open to our members,” Scholl said. “After all, they are the glue that holds us together.”
The chamber will present its tourism marketing campaign at three upcoming local meetings: County Commission (April 21), HR city council (April 28), and Cascade Locks city council (May 12). For more information, call 386-2000 or visit www.hoodriver.org.