Bellevue tourism numbers increase to 1.5 million

More tourists came to Bellevue last year, bringing more money to the city than ever before, said a local tourism board.

More tourists came to Bellevue last year, bringing more money to the city than ever before, said a local tourism board.

More than 1.5 million tourists came to Bellevue in 2015, about 10,000 a day. Of those, more than 1.1 million were overnight visitors. Those tourists brought more than $795 million in “direct visitor spending” (i.e. lodging, restaurants, shopping), a rise of seven percent over 2014.

Visit Bellevue Washington, the city’s destination marketing organization, compiled the statistics.

Stacy Graven, executive director of the Meydenbauer Center in Downtown Bellevue, said a majority of those tourists were corporate visits, but that wasn’t a bad thing.

“A lot of them stay here on business and then visit the city while here,” she said. “There’s great shopping, Bellevue is a clean and safe environment with natural resources and great parks. People might not come here specifically for those, but they will take advantage of them while here.”

Sharon Linton, communications manager for Visit Bellevue Washington, said some tourists are there by default.

“People will be in town for conventions and even if the convention is “happening” in Seattle, it’ll actually be happening here,” she said. “Our draw is Seattle, but once people are here, they realize Bellevue is a nice place to be.”

For years, the women say, Bellevue has been an also-ran in the tourism sector. Not so anymore, with more than 10,000 jobs dependent partly or entirely on tourism. The $7.6 million collected in tax revenue from visitors in 2015 was a tax benefit of $137 per household.

These numbers were helped along by the opening of two new hotels last year — The Hampton Inn and Suites and the Seattle Marriott Bellevue — and with those the addition of 500 hotel rooms in the city. Even with those additions, hotels in Bellevue had an occupancy rate of 75 percent last year.

Graven said that a rising tourism sector in Bellevue would benefit all the cities on the Eastside.

“They say a rising tide lifts all boats. I think they would rise with us,” she said. “People might stay here and go to Woodinville wine country, or go to downtown Redmond or to the Cascades.”

Bellevue’s established hotel market makes it an Eastside destination, the two said. The fact that the city is close to Seattle and has a marked decrease in hotel occupancy on the weekend makes it a (relatively) cheap option for Seattle tourists.

Linton said that Bellevue sees an increase during Seattle-based events like Seahawks games or Seafair, but that only a few events based in Bellevue seem to drive the traffic. Among these are the “Magic Season” holiday events and Bellevue Festival of the Arts.

Not content to rest on its laurels, Visit Bellevue Washington is meeting with a consultant this week and will work with Bellevue’s economic development department on a tourism study which will hopefully bear some fruit by the end of 2016.

The study will look at what works, what doesn’t, and what Bellevue can do to responsibly increase tourism traffic to the city.

Linton has an inkling of what will do that.

“What’s the “there” there?” she said. “What’s something distinctly Bellevue people can visit? I’d like to see an attraction that will bring people independently.”

One of the biggest challenges the city faces in changing how tourists see Bellevue is, oddly, how the residents see it.

“We have to make the city of Bellevue aware of the advantages of tourism,” Graven said. “It’s the age-old perception from people who have lived here for a long time who think Bellevue is boring. Bellevue has changed.”

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