Shakespeare spurs spending

Ashland tourists who don't set foot in an Oregon Shakespeare Festival theater outnumber tourists who do attend OSF plays by more than 2-to-1, yet festivalgoers spend 40 percent more as a group.

Economic consultant Rebecca Reid, an Ashland resident, uncovered that surprising information while doing research on tourism for the Ashland Chamber of Commerce.

Many of her findings are contained in a special section on tourism in the chamber's new "Living and Doing Business Guide 2010."

In 2007, the most recent year that data was available, Reid estimated that 214,530 visitors to Ashland did not go to OSF plays, while 90,000 did.

Reid said the visitor count includes not only tourists who spend the night in Ashland, but people who come in from surrounding cities to shop in Ashland, as well as casual visitors who stop in town while traveling on Interstate 5. The festival is closed in November, December and January.

OSF Marketing and Communications Director Mallory Pierce said tourists who stop in Ashland but don't attend plays represent important potential new customers for the festival.

"We depend on that," she said. "That's how we build new customers. We call them 'drive-bys.' People are charmed by the community and then they want to come back and see a play."

The town of Ashland and OSF benefit each other by drawing visitors, Pierce said.

"It's a symbiotic relationship. One could not live without the other," she said.

While tourists who don't attend OSF plays outnumber those who do, the OSF attendees pack a disproportionate economic wallop.

OSF visitors spent an estimated $41.9 million in Ashland in 2007, while non-OSF visitors spent $29.4 million collectively.

OSF visitors usually stay at hotels and bed and breakfast inns and eat at higher-priced restaurants.

Non-OSF visitors don't always spend the night in Ashland, or they stay with friends or camp. They also tend to eat at lower-priced restaurants frequented by locals, Reid said.

"You do different things when you're with your local friends," she said.

Based on hotel and restaurant sales taxes in Ashland, summer is, predictably, Ashland's strongest tourism season, followed by spring. Fall is almost as bad as winter when it comes to the off-season drop in tourist numbers.

However, the spring quarter includes April, May and June, the latter month marking the start of OSF's strong summer season. September is included in the summer quarter, not the fall quarter.

It's not clear whether the way the year is divided into quarters is inflating spring tourist numbers and depressing fall counts, or whether Ashland has succeeded in boosting spring tourism with events such as the annual Ashland Independent Film Festival and A Taste of Ashland gallery, wine and food tour.

Reid commended Ashland's strategy of trying to boost tourism in non-summer months. Marketing outdoor activities, wine tours, culinary events, restaurant chef competitions and other events is also important in getting tourists to see there is a wealth of local activities.

"The idea is to get people to stay longer and to get across the message, 'There's more to do than you thought,'" Reid said.

Katharine Flanagan, marketing and Visitor and Convention Bureau director for the Ashland Chamber of Commerce, said Reid's research shows people are coming to Ashland for a variety of reasons.

"There's a notion that everyone comes for Shakespeare. We are internationally known for Shakespeare, but there are also a lot of other different reasons we're put on the map," Flanagan said.

She said the chamber has created sample itineraries for its annual visitors' guide that show how people who come for a weekend get-away to Ashland could extend their stay through Monday, even though OSF theaters are closed that day. The guide offers suggestions for Monday activities.

Flanagan said more people are coming to Ashland for outdoor recreation. The chamber's downtown office has seen an increase this spring in younger people from the Portland area asking about outdoor activities.

"Ashland is not just a town to see a play, eat dinner and go to sleep. There's so much to do here," she said.

In late July, the chamber plans to unveil its revamped Web site, which will feature information about Ashland subcultures for both locals and tourists. The chamber hopes to appeal to runners, river adventurers, bird watchers, music enthusiasts and other fans of niche activities, Flanagan said.

The Web site also will include quirky information, such as a list of all the restaurants and pubs that have fireplaces, she said.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or

Share This Story