Jeff Miller

A Welcoming Place – travel PORTLAND

WORDS Merlin Faraday | PHOTOGRAPHY Christian Columbres / Travel Portland / Tim Sugden

Travel Portland President and CEO Jeff Miller has a lot going on, and it’s all good – speaking recently at Oregon’s tourism State of the Industry event, leading the charge in making Travel Portland one of the most innovative Destination Marketing Organizations in the nation and moving the entire visitors bureau to a gorgeous new space in the LEED Platinum building at SW First and Main St.

In the spirit of celebrating what Jeff refers to as “a city of makers”, Travel Portland’s new headquarters features quintessential Portland products: Pendleton fabrics, chairs by The Joinery and a conference room table by Denali made from a Canby walnut tree. Reclaimed wood from local company Viridian Wood greets guests with the image of Portland’s quadrants. Six Portland-themed murals by local artists enhance the well-lit, open floor plan.

A critical element of the space – designed by Interior Architects and created by Swinerton Builders – was fostering an environment of collaboration and comfort, with sit-stand desks, readily accessible meeting/work rooms and cozy nooks in which to connect with co-workers or community partners. Perfect for the organization that works tirelessly to welcome domestic and international visitors to Portland.

PI: What is the journey that led you to your current role as President and CEO of Travel Portland?
JM: I’ve been in Portland for almost 24 years. Before coming to work at Travel Portland, I managed the downtown Saks Fifth Avenue for 13 years. For several of those years I was on the Board of Portland Oregon Visitors Association (POVA), the precursor to Travel Portland, when Joe D’Alessandro was the President and CEO. Then I went to work as the General Manager of the Metropolitan Exposition Recreation Commission (MERC), which is the organization in METRO which oversees the Oregon Convention Center, Portland’s Centers for the Arts and the Expo Center. The building directors reported to me and I managed the finances as well. The Convention Center has a contract with Travel Portland to manage city-wide conventions and meetings, so I was lucky enough to come to Travel Portland when Joe left, which brought me back to my background in sales, branding and marketing. So, it was, for me, a very exciting job and a really exciting time in the city.

PI: What is unique about Portland as a travel destination?
JM: We are a very welcoming city. You can come here and be yourself, be who you want to be. We’ve got great assets – from the beer scene, the wine, the great food, lots of attractions, etc. We don’t have a Space Needle or a Fisherman’s Wharf, but what’s unique about Portland is that people come here to do the things that we do. You’ll be sitting in that great brewpub – with visitors and Portlanders – and they’ll suggest the three other beers you ought to try while you are here. So, you are experiencing Portland like a local.

PI: Tourism has a powerful impact on the local economy, job growth and quality of life in a community, correct?
JM: Yes. We just announced our economic impact numbers and there was 5.1 billion in spending, 36,300 jobs in the three county region. The growth over the past five years has been phenomenal. We gauge that by lodging taxes, which have increased 100% in the last few years. That’s an indication of our contribution in the hospitality industry to the local economy. Those jobs are very important, and they aren’t all entry level jobs. There are lots of entrepreneurs in hospitality, as well. We think about tourism as far as its economic impact, not just the fun stuff!

PI: What are some of the methods that Travel Portland departments utilize to draw domestic and international travelers to the area?
JM: The international markets are some of our most interesting work. We focus specifically on the international direct service flights from PDX – Japan, Amsterdam, Germany, the United Kingdom and Iceland. Trade shows are a big way for us to tell the Portland story. We take local makers – like celebrity chef Gregory Gourdet – to press events around the world. We also bring in a lot of tour operators and media for familiarization tours, inviting them to come see this place that we love. We get a lot of: “Ah! Now I get it!” People really understand Portland once they experience all the things we have to offer.

PI: How is the success of Travel Portland’s domestic and international marketing efforts measured?
JM: The Winter campaign – which we started four years ago with some initial funding that we got from the hotels – ran in Vancouver, BC, Seattle, Bend and Eugene to drive visitors to Portland for the November – March time period. We get projections from a lodging industry research firm and we have beat those projections every year. We also measure visitors’ “intent to travel” through surveys and that has gone up every year from these campaigns. This year we are also running campaigns in Minneapolis, Phoenix and San Francisco for Spring, which is when people are making their buying decisions for the rest of the year.

PI: What do you like best about working in tourism?
JM: It’s a friendly industry – people want to welcome you and they want you to come and enjoy where they live and how they live, and especially in Portland that’s very true. We hear it all the time – Portlanders are so friendly. That speaks so much to the heart and soul of this place – people in Portland are generous of spirit.