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Bad reputation has large conventions skipping Portland, tourism report says

Travel Portland's president and CEO said issues like civil unrest, homelessness and public safety are keeping visitors away.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland's reputation has taken a bit of a beating recently, and as a result organizations and companies that thought about holding big conventions here, bringing tourists and money with them, are now looking elsewhere.

That's according to a recent tourism report by Travel Portland.

The agency presented its finding to Portland city commissioners earlier this week.

"Here's the problem, around the world too many people associate Portland with homelessness and homicide," said commissioner Mingus Mapps.

Mapps is the city's tourism liaison. Like most on the city council, he was not surprised by the findings.

"Today a significant chunk of humanity is afraid of spending time and money in our city," he said.

"Portland-specific issues that are related to civil unrest and public safety concerns have exacerbated the negative occurrences of declining attendance and group cancellations," said Travel Portland president and CEO Jeff Miller. 

According to the city, in 2019 tourism supported about 36,000 jobs in the Portland-metro area. In 2020, about 10,000 of those jobs disappeared, along with a lot of business.

RELATED: US details new international COVID-19 travel requirements

"It doesn't seem like it's a safe situation for a lot of people," said Donald Kenney. Kenney is part owner of Spirit of 77.

The restaurant depends a lot on tourism, especially from the nearby convention center. Kenney worries what the pandemic plus Portland's not-so-pretty image will mean for business.

 "If there's a lot less people coming for conventions that's a real impact to our business," he said.

"Portland has declined to the lowest levels of being a likely destination for delegates to attend a conference," said Miller.

According to Miller, conventions aren't wanting to come to Portland, and it will likely take years for the city to convince them to come back.

"It wasn't uplifting," said Mayor Wheeler of the report. "But I didn't expect it to be."

Wheeler said the city is committed to addressing the public safety and homeless concerns. But until it does, it might have to put on hold some of its traditional bragging rights.

"We're not ready for marketing," Wheeler said. "I'm not saying stop your marketing, but right now people don't buy it." 

RELATED: City council renews contract to protect and clean up downtown Portland

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