Oregon's largest city still has a long way to go in repairing its reputation

According to Portland's chief tourism promoter, Portland's reputation for being "badly damaged" is hurting its standing as the largest city in Oregon. It has been the victim of months of protests that have turned violent, a homeless crisis, and a record number of homicides.

Oregon's largest city still has a long way to go in repairing its reputation

Travel Portland, the city’s tourism promotion group, was partly funded by taxes. This week, data from the City Council and Mayor showed that Portland has fallen to its lowest level of being a destination for conference delegates. Only 64% of those surveyed said that they would return to Portland.

"It takes a life to build a reputation, and you can ruin it in a matter of seconds," Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler stated in response to the Travel Portland data. We just have to be committed to the long-term process of improving safety, livability, and economic prosperity in the city.

This liberal city was long known for its delicious food scene, craft beers and nature-loving hipsters. It became the epicenter for racial justice protests after the death of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

A small area of downtown was ravaged by protests for months. There were clashes with federal agents and demonstrators, teargas plumes, fireworks explosions in the streets, and rubber bullets flying through air.

Although Portland's violent protests are now mostly over, there were still some outbreaks earlier in the month. A crowd of 100 people broke into stores windows and set fire to dumpsters during a vigil in memory of a murdered activist two years ago. This caused damage totaling at least $500,000 to buildings and businesses in the city.

MMGY Travel Intelligence collected data for Travel Portland. MMGY Travel Intelligence asked respondents how likely they were to attend a conference, meeting or other event in Portland over the next 24 months. The question asked about 21 destinations and Portland was at the "bottom" of the list.

Survey results showed that 50% of event planners and 2/3 of attendees polled recently said that they were more likely to book meetings or attend events in the city within the next two year period because of the "visibility of racial/social protests."

Jeff Miller, president and CEO at Travel Portland, stated that this will likely mean that we won't have the chance to bid on any conventions in the next two years. This will impact our long-term success well into the future.

Dan Ryan, Portland City Commissioner, said that a friend who recently volunteered at the convention sent him a text about her experience helping visitors feel unsafe in the city.

Ryan was told by the woman that it was "really depressing" to have so many people approach her. She also said that she looked angry that they allowed themselves to host a large convention... as if we weren't ready.

The most recent Portland consumer research found that visitors to the city are more likely to return than they were earlier in the year. However, this was still lower than the levels seen in surveys before the protests and the pandemic.

The central Portland hotel occupancy rate has improved since the outbreak, however Miller stated that the September bookings lag behind the 14 other tourist cities Travel Portland tracks, except San Francisco and Minneapolis.

Miller stated that recovery is taking place elsewhere than here.

Portland is currently experiencing a homeless crisis. Local businesses, organizations, and residents are asking the city for help. This could be in the form additional housing, mental healthcare resources, cleanups, or increased public safety.

Workers in a Portland neighborhood that has many medical buildings shared their experiences with patients and staff at a recent City Council meeting.

Sonia Bouchard is the director of operations at Oregon Clinic Gastroenterology East. They are often threatened, approached for money or yelled at.

She said that employees often witness aggressive behavior, fights and even drug use. Some patients have expressed concern to staff and have chosen to change doctors.

Dr. Harry Bray stated that "we've added fencing to increase security." "But, at this point, it seems that we are unable make things better. We need your help."

Some major events have already been affected by the spiraling homeless crisis.

The Oregon's largest annual event in golf was moved from Portland, due to its proximity to a large homeless camp, to West Linn.

Portland is currently experiencing its most violent year, with at least 69 homicides this year. This surpasses the 1987 record of 66.

Despite these challenges, Wheeler said that Portland is resilient and will re-emerge in safety and popularity as a desirable destination for travelers.

Travel Portland has increased its marketing efforts for the city. However, officials stated that more work is required. Officials expect a budget surplus soon with $60 million in additional funding. The City Council could use the extra funds to promote tourism and make the city safer.

Wheeler stated, "I don't say stop your marketing. But right now people aren't buying it." They want to see these results. They want to see results.

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