The most visited destination in Whatcom County is Bellis Fair Mall in Bellingham, according to a tourism study commissioned by Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism (BWCT).
However, roughly 15 percent of those visitors reported traveling to Blaine or Birch Bay during their stay in the county. The majority of those visits were overnight trips.
BWCT worked with Dean Runyan Associates to conduct the study, which is still in draft form, from November 2008 to October 2009. BWTC staff and volunteers distributed questionnaires to tourists all across Whatcom County to determine how long they stayed in the county, what they did and where they went.
About 80 percent of those asked said they visited Bellingham. Other popular destinations were the Fairhaven district in Bellingham and the Mount Baker area. Most of the visitors to the county were between 50 and 59 years of age.
Jacqueline Cartier, director of marketing for BWCT, said the results of the study will help determine what destinations in the county are promoted most effectively, and what areas might need more promotion.
The study showed the majority of the travelers to the county came from the area between Puget Sound and Vancouver, B.C.
Cartier said it is the job of the BWCT to inform those travelers, especially those coming across the border, that there is more to Whatcom County than just Bellingham.
“I think Whatcom County, for some Canadians, is perceived to be the Guide [Meridian] and Bellis Fair,” she said.
BWCT tries to conduct studies like this, which can cost more than $25,000, every 2 to 5 years, Cartier explained. She said 75 percent of the funds for BWCT come from local lodging taxes, with the remaining percent coming from member dues.
Though the study showed most first-time visitors to the county make Bellingham their first stop, many returning visitors seemed to make a point of expanding beyond Bellingham and exploring the greater county area.
BWCT will use this data to communicate to county business owners what most of the area’s tourists are doing once they get here, Cartier said. For example, the majority of visitors to the county, close to 57 percent, traveled in pairs. Cartier said businesses could benefit from this knowledge by offering travel programs and special sales offers specifically to couples.
The results of the study will also allow BWCT to more effectively inform county residents about what is available when family members come to visit, Cartier explained.
In a more general sense, Cartier said the results of the study will help BWCT put together their 2011 media and marketing plan. This plan will guide the organization’s advertising efforts for the next year.