Tourists satisfied, but room for improvement
Last updated 10/27/2021 at Noon
Visitors enjoy Sisters, but several key areas — traffic, and the availability of dining options and overnight accommodations — could be improved.
Those are conclusions drawn from a series of surveys conducted in order to create data for the destination tourism management work going on in the City of Sisters (see related story on page 15).
ECONorthwest of Bend conducted surveys for Sisters from August 12 to September 8, via emails and social media, to people who had previously visited Sisters. Lists came from Creekside Campground, Sisters Folk Festival, Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show, and other public events. They also conducted in-person tourist surveys from Friday, August 13 to Monday, August 16.
The intercept sites in town included local restaurants and shops, trailheads and trails, recreation sites, and Black Butte Ranch and Camp Sherman. Between both types of surveys, the largest number of respondents came from Oregon (721), followed by Washington (171), California (140), other western states (90), Midwest (34), South (26), and East (24).
The data collected revealed that visitors to Sisters are in general highly satisfied with their experience, but several key areas could be improved to enhance visitor experience and encourage repeat visits. They complained about the traffic, lack of available restaurants and accommodations, and affordability. Distance, cost, crowding, and other preferred destinations are among the main reasons people would choose to not visit again.
The visitors in the surveys tend to be older, traveling without children, on three- or four-night destination vacations with friends/family or in vacation rentals. The most popular activities were dining, hiking, shopping, breweries, and visiting parks/natural areas.
Intercept interviewees (212):
The most important factors for visiting included scenic beauty, relaxation, and local dining. As the data was presented to Sisters City Council, the question came up as to how much impact COVID-19 had on some of the responses, like lack of available restaurants and accommodations.
Eighty-six percent of visitors surveyed traveled to Sisters by car, 7 percent by camper/RV, and 4 percent by rental car. Of those who stayed overnight, 58 percent stayed in Sisters and 20 percent at Black Butte Ranch. The rest were spread out over dispersed camping sites, Bend, campgrounds, Camp Sherman, Eagle Crest, and other surrounding cities. The top three parks and outdoor recreation sites visited were the McKenzie Pass Scenic Byway, Scout or Suttle Lake, and the Three Sisters Wilderness.
The largest percentage of visitors (29 percent) stayed with family/friends, with 25 percent in private rentals, 19 percent in campgrounds or RV, 17 percent in hotel/motel, and 10 percent at a resort. The three primary motivators for visiting the Sisters area were eating at local restaurants (18 percent), and visiting friends/relatives and hiking (both 16 percent).
Previous visitors (1,263): Among the 1,263 respondents who previously visited and were contacted by email and social media, the top three factors in deciding to visit, like the intercept responders, were scenic beauty, relaxation, and dining at local restaurants. However, their satisfaction with dining was ranked lower than the importance rating.
Sixty-nine percent of the 1,263 previous visitors indicated they were extremely likely to visit again in the next two years. On future visits, people would most like to hike, dine, and visit a brewery, cidery, or distillery, attend a festival or event, and shop. The greatest amount of money spent per party on overnight visits was for hotels/camping, followed by shopping/other, recreation/entertainment, food, and gas.
While the greatest number of visitors experienced no difficulties during their visit, those who did mentioned problems with traffic, availability/options, and accommodations.
The research data collected can help inform what the next steps in the process could be, including fostering better communication and collaboration among local partners and with visitors, increasing diversity and improving the quality of visitor experiences to lengthen stays (particularly in shoulder- and off-seasons), develop visitor management systems to protect natural and cultural resources and to support improving the visitor experience, and improve and focus destination marketing in order to increase demand for off-season visitation and lengthen visitor stays. Tourism-related businesses should receive the type of support they need to evolve.
It is now up to the City Council to decide how much time and money they want to devote to destination tourism and determine if they will pursue Phase II of the process.