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Staycations no cessation on Poulsbo tourist season

Seasonal

economy stayed fairly strong, and the fun isn’t over yet.

POULSBO — The Viking City is one known for drawing in crowds with its history and charm and this summer was no exception. Despite a poor economy and high gas costs putting the skids on many vacation plans, businesses in Poulsbo report a decent number of summertime traffic, and are anticipating continuing patronage of locals. As Labor Day rings in the start of fall and school, many in Poulsbo’s tourism-based industries say the summer months were a moderate success.

“We’re looking forward to another busy weekend. Most of the weekends this season have been full, have been busy,” said Port of Poulsbo manager Kirk Stickels. The summer’s occasional wet and windy moments produced some slower turnouts than normal, he added, but even more of an influential factor has been the price of gasoline. This is the second year high fuel costs have affected business at the port.

“Where we saw the effect this year was with the midweek boaters coming in,” Stickels said. Last year Tuesdays and Wednesdays would see the beginnings of the late week and weekend crowd; this summer port slips have been filling up a day later, with Wednesday ushering the start of the week’s visitors.

There’s just “no getting around it,” he said.

But while rising expenses have made smaller boats and shorter trips the norm, the summer season’s holidays and festivals still filled Liberty Bay. And as long as weather cooperates, Stickels is expecting the same for the last three-day hoorah of the season.

Port neighbor Northwest Boat Rentals reports the season has been a busy one, with both locals and tourists coming through their doors.

Employee Debi Doetz said even when reservation books were empty, walk-in customers have kept their rentable electric boats busy.

“A lot of it is locals that are having visitors,” she said of their customer base, which also consists of a few regulars but mainly tourists. Doetz said a key to the three-year company’s success is keeping reasonable prices, so locals and those “staycationing” from nearby areas can afford the close activity.

Greater Poulsbo Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Adele Heinrich said the number of tourists picking up maps and informational literature in July and August rose by about 8 percent over the start of summer; the number of heads in hotel room beds is also up, she reported. She said the positive turnouts aren’t due just to sunny weather, but the heavy marketing campaign Poulsbo businesses and the chamber pursued. Ads for Poulsbo can be found on Washington state ferries, in Seattle and as far away as Anacortes. When it comes to Labor Day, Heinrich said she’s hopeful the Viking City’s usual success will continue.

“We always seem to have a lot of traffic and we always seem to have a busy downtown, so I hope it continues,” she said. “I’m real pleased so far.”

Historic Downtown Poulsbo Association and downtown business owner Tammy Mattson said Labor Day may signal the end of the summer tourist season, but it flags in the start of a time of year designed to bring locals into the city’s core.

“Although summer is coming to finality we’re still in high gear here,” she said. Fall events including the Classic Yacht Rendezvous, harvest and Halloween celebrations and Christmas festivities all give North End residents good reason to head into downtown.

Even during the summer months Mattson said many worked to cater to locals, as it was clear vacationers statewide would be staying within the geographical limits of a single tank of gas.

“The HDPA group has really been focusing on putting quality out there for our locals,” she said. “They (community events) are really designed for, on behalf of, our locals. That’s kind of our way of saying ‘thank you’ back to our local residents that support us, and we would love to see more.”

Downtown fared well during the summer months, she said, thanks in large part to business owners’ understanding of the economy and its effect on the customers’ discretionary dollar. Many have endeavored to create fun for customers in what is essentially a nationwide downtime.

“We knew this was coming, basically, so that helped us to plan things for our locals, people that are going to be able to access us. It definitely effected us but because of our planning and foresight it has not been a real super-negative,” she said.

And, she added, much of what remains to come for locals is not just family-friendly, but free.

“It’s not over yet,” she said.

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