Marketing a destination one dish at a time

Second annual Dine the Couve event brings out thousands of hungry diners during month of October

Oct. 31 marked the end of a successful second annual dining month for Visit Vancouver USA. This year, our Dine the Couve event brought out thousands of diners hungry for unbeatable deals on specially tailored menus throughout the entire month of October.

For each of the 27 participating restaurants and breweries, success took a slightly different form. For Bobby Ras, owner of downtown’s NOM NOM Restaurant and Grill, success meant 682 dining month orders at his recently established business. At Niche Wine Bar, success meant providing a platform to show diners that the Main Street mainstay does in fact have delicious culinary creations beyond its impressive wine list. And for Farrar’s Bistro owner Debbie Belden, success meant introducing guests to Farrar’s newly minted sister restaurant in Hazel Dell, Sixth Avenue Bistro.

Of course, while all of this is success worth celebrating, there is one success story that might otherwise go unnoticed: The success a thriving culinary scene and robust destination marketing program can have for a city as an overnight tourism destination.

As the primary destination marketing organization (DMO) for Vancouver and Clark County, Visit Vancouver USA is tasked with increasing visitor spending to the area by promoting the region as a meetings and leisure destination. We track visitor spending through Dean Runyan Associates, which most recently calculated that visitors to the area spent $472.5 million in 2016 on goods and services ranging from lodging and restaurants to shopping and entertainment.

Marketing promotions like Dine the Couve play an important part in fueling this visitor spending. Although it’s true that many of this year’s dining month guests were local foodies (after all, who wouldn’t want to take advantage of an incredible dining month deal at their favorite restaurant?), the event is one more component in our DMO arsenal for attracting overnight visitors.

When out-of-town travelers evaluate a destination for an overnight visit, whether for business or leisure, a key factor is the destination’s desirability. Even if a traveler never leaves the hotel room, odds are they would rather stay in a place that is vibrant, accessible and richly diverse than one that is lacking in surrounding amenities and tourism attractions. Dine the Couve shows travelers a snapshot of Vancouver at its best—a destination with a thriving food and drink scene that is united by its true sense of community.

This year, we expanded the geographic parameters of dining month to encompass the many pockets of restaurant hot spots serving both local hotels and neighborhood residents. From northern hotels in Salmon Creek to the Hilton and Convention Center downtown to the DoubleTree in East Vancouver, guests staying at many of the area’s dozens of lodging properties could experience Dine the Couve deals just a short walk or drive from their hotel room. Visiting groups and conventions also took advantage of the event and organized dine-arounds for their delegates to try dining month specials.

While tourists and meeting delegates may not have been the largest share of diners, overnight visitors spend more than day travelers and are essential to growing visitor spending to the area. In fact, overnight visitors to Clark County in 2016 spent $200 more per person on average during their trip than day travelers. Of course, day travelers and locals also contribute positively to area businesses, and events like Dine the Couve appeal to the entire range of consumers.

A consumer’s perception of an area as a tourism destination is not built overnight with one successful event. Years of marketing initiatives, group business solicitation, and brand promotion by our office and our hospitality and community partners have helped clue visitors in to Vancouver’s unique draw. Dine the Couve is just the latest initiative in our toolbox of tourism marketing tactics to increase overnight stays and visitor spending.

With the coming waterfront developments and more growth on the way in 2018, we’re ready to employ even more marketing initiatives in our ongoing storytelling efforts. After all, serving up the best bites of Vancouver USA to hungry travel consumers is our house specialty.

Kim Bennett has served as the President & CEO of Visit Vancouver USA since 1999, the primary destination marketing organization for Vancouver and Clark County. She is the current Board President of DMA West (Destination Marketing Associations of the West) and serves by gubernatorial appointment on the Washington Film Commission, representing destination marketing organizations throughout the state.