In 2010, more than 24,000 people signed in at the Sequim Visitor’s Information Center. Three staff members and 60 volunteers, including, from left, Janet Mullen, Jeri Smith, office administrator, Maja Cox, Esther Nelson, Lynn Elliott, administrative assistant, Vickie Maples, executive director, and Donna Spalding, run day-to-day operations. Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash
by MATTHEW NASH
If you want to know Sequim better, the Visitor Information Center, 1192 E. Washington St., might be the best place to start. Thousands of tourists and locals turn to the center each year for information about events, sights and anything else under the Sequim sun.
In 2010, 24,270 people signed the voluntary guest register at the center. July saw the most visitors, 6,706, and December the fewest, 523.
Vickie Maples, executive director of the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce, which oversees the center, said attendance remains consistent.
Here are attendance numbers for the past four years.
Lynn Elliott, administrative assistant for the center, said a lot of interest in Sequim is coming from the Internet and social media websites like Facebook. She often sends out information over the web and helps with travel plans over the phone.
A woman in Portland, Ore., discovered Sequim through a magazine article and called the center for directions. Elliott said the woman didn’t know anything about Sequim, and mispronounced it, but had a strong desire to visit. On her trip north, the woman called Elliott every 15 minutes to make sure she was going the right way.
“It’s fine. It’s what we’re here for,” Elliott said.
On Jan. 1, Elliott began recording the number of phone calls she receives. The center’s sign-in sheet now asks visitors the number of days they’ll be in Sequim and if they plan to visit Hurricane Ridge.
“We may only have five visitors but the impact is hard to quantify because we don’t know what they do and spend,” Maples said.
The center’s resources hit a slight pothole on Jan. 10, when Sequim city councilors approved a contract with the Visitor Information Center for $66,000. Center staff had requested $76,225 but city councilors approved city manager Steve Burkett’s suggested amount.
Maples said she asked for an increase of $10,550 from 2010 to cover staff time in informational booths during holidays, distributing information in new areas and researching marketing opportunities.
One topic during budget discussions was the center’s purpose.
“A lot of people who come through the door say, ‘We’re passing through, is there a reason to stay?’” Maples said. “We’re here to convince them Sequim is a great place. It’s a friendly challenge to convince them to stay.”
Center staff said users range from local residents, who use the center to pick up items to send to family, to Twilighters (Forks visitors), to Hurricane Ridge visitors who didn’t know Sequim existed, and to international travelers.
Some city councilors questioned city funds going to the center for supporting businesses outside of the city limits.
“People who come to Sequim don’t just come to see Sequim,” Maples said.
“As it exists now, most of the assets are in the county, but we do have some great ones like Carrie Blake Park, the Museum & Arts Center, two lavender farms and the downtown shopping core.”
Recent numbers show Sequim is where a lot of people are lodging. For every person who stays the night in a hotel or bed and breakfast within the Sequim city limits, the city receives lodging tax dollars.
In 2010, Sequim’s room tax revenue went up 19.3 percent to $179,931.62, compared to $150,778.80 in 2009. Port Angeles went up 3.3 percent from 2009-2010, Forks up 12.4 percent, Clallam County up 16.5 percent, Jefferson County down 7.7 percent and Port Townsend down 4.7 percent.
The city of Sequim’s hotel/motel tax in 2011 will help fund the city’s new communications and marketing manager’s salary, Guy Cole Center utilities and supplies, the Irrigation and Lavender festivals, and tourism promotion.
The Visitor Information Center is synonymous with the Sequim-Dungeness Chamber of Commerce. The chamber owns the building and offices and funds operations through chamber memberships and lodging tax dollars.
Maples oversees both businesses with Elliott full-time for the VIC and Jeri Smith, office administrator, splitting her time between the two businesses.
There are 447 chamber members, with more than 130 tourism-related. Maples said chamber members get preference with spots for cards in the center and references when visitors call, e-mail or stop by.
Elliott said when she refers visitors to nonmembers she does a follow-up phone call to the business to see if they would be interested in joining.
“Our goal is to help the visitor,” Maples said. “People come here for hiking, biking, to visit the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, Old Dungeness Lighthouse, lavender in Sequim — even in the winter — Olympic Game Farm, Hurricane Ridge and so much more.”For more information or to volunteer, contact the Visitor Information Center at 683-6197.
Sequim Visitor Information Center
1192 E. Washington St., Sequim
In 2010, visitors signed in from all 50 states
10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday
9 a.m-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday
Reach Matthew Nash at firstname.lastname@example.org.