Vashon should become weekend destination, report says

Vashon should market itself as an “events and activities-driven getaway,” offering up quilting retreats, adult art camps and Valentines’ packages to draw tourists to the Island in the fall and winter, a report commissioned by the Vashon Chamber of Commerce says.

The chamber and Island businesses should create at least two such weekend-oriented events a month during the off-season, touting them as getaways that will draw the “thoughtful tourist,” according to the report, issued by Blonde Ambition, a Vashon-based marketing firm.

The 12-page summary, a digest of a 54-page report the firm gave to the chamber board last week, marks the culmination of Blonde Ambition’s first phase of work.

The goal, the report says, was to develop a “cohesive, strategic, objective and goal-oriented plan to better Vashon’s businesses and overall economy.” Amy Herbig, president of Blonde Ambition, presented her findings to the chamber’s board last week. She’ll make another presentation to the chamber’s general members on Thursday at Courthouse Square. The meeting is open to the public.

Herbig, at last week’s chamber board meeting, said the plan does not call on the chamber or Island businesses to promote Vashon during the summer months, when the Island is already hopping.

Rather, she said, Island businesspeople should try to develop and promote more events like the recent reading by Berkeley Breathed, a holiday-inspired gathering that attracted several off-Islanders.

Tourists won’t visit, she told the board, “if there isn’t a solid reason for coming to Vashon.”

Once here, she added, they need resources — information and education to point them towards a variety of Island amenities. To that end, she recommended a visitor-oriented Web site and visitor center in town.

“Residents can’t sustain us year-round,” she said, echoing what she said she heard from merchants, B&B owners and restaurateurs. The Island’s commerce, she said, “must be enhanced.”

Melinda Sontgerath, one of the chamber’s board members and owner of The Hardware Store Restaurant, said the report is paving the way for the chamber’s next efforts, which will include the Web site Herbig suggested. The chamber is currently seeking contractors who will design an identity for Vashon and create a tourist-oriented Web site.

“It’s finally putting into words something we’ve never tried to put into words — and it’s leading us to our first step, which is developing a visitor Web site ... that anyone can use, whether you live on Vashon or are visiting Vashon,” she said.

Once that work is completed, Sontgerath said, “Then it falls back into the chamber’s lap, creating events that the community can rally around.”

But some chamber members questioned Herbig’s report, saying they thought it was thin in light of how much money the chamber spent. The first phase cost $7,000.

“I was extremely disappointed in the final report,” said Bettie Edwards, owner of The Little House and a chamber member. “There was no substantial plan.”

The idea that Vashon should attract weekend visitors during the off-season, she added, is fairly obvious.

“All of us could have sat around and done this,” she said.

Herbig said the next step is to design what she called the “brand identity” — the logo, colors, fonts and look that will inform the Web site and govern any future marketing. The Web site and brand identity, she said, could be launched in April.

Chamber meeting

The report issued by a Vashon marketing firm will be presented to chamber members at 8:30 a.m. Thursday at Courthouse Square. The meeting is open to the public.

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