The sound of laughter can be heard from Lithia Park as friends stroll the meandering path that leads them through the beautifully landscaped scenery and smells of spring. This morning they got massages, spent some time shopping and just dined on the patio at one of Ashland’s restaurants. They are going wine tasting this afternoon on the Bear Creek Wine Trail. This evening they will enjoy dinner and a play at a local theater company and tomorrow they are skiing on Mount Ashland. This is Ashland’s spring visitor and they are valuable to our economy.

Did you know that Ashland welcomes more than 350,000 visitors annually? Tourism is the front door to Ashland’s economy and is an economic driver to Ashland’s sustainable growth. The Ashland visitor is highly educated, skewing higher than the national average. They are attracted to the sophisticated amenities and enjoy learning while on their trip. These are the same amenities that locals enjoy. Visitors are drawn to the quality of life here and many become residents.

The Ashland Visitor and Convention Bureau (VCB) is the officially designated Destination Marketing Organization for Ashland. It promotes Ashland year-round as the unique destination that it is, offering unmatched cultural, culinary and outdoor experiences. It promotes to the individual leisure traveler as well as to groups, tours and conferences that experience Ashland.

Ashland’s tourism industry continues to strengthen. We are growing as a unique destination that fuels an economic platform for innovation that attracts not only a highly educated resident but sustains a highly educated visitor base. By passionately promoting Ashland, with its amenities, colorful seasons and amazing outdoors, we continue to enhance and deliver that authentic experience our visitors seek.

Thank you to the service industry — from restaurants to hotels, B&Bs to theaters, retail shops to galleries, spas to outfitters and everyone that delivers this amazing visitor experience.

There is a true economic benefit of visitor dollars to our overall city revenues. Through the almost $3 million in TOT (lodging tax revenue) and $3 million in Food and Beverage tax revenue generated, the majority of those funds — approximately $5 million of the $6 million go directly to support city services such as police, fire and roads. Our strong tourism base also fuels employment for Ashland.

Ashland Chamber and VCB have a unique vantage point, serving as a sounding board and liaison, fostering effective partnerships and innovative programs that contribute to Ashland. In addition to the traditional responsibilities of a Chamber of Commerce and membership organization, we enjoy the added responsibility of a Destination Marketing Organization and economic development entity.

Ashland VCB serves as the gateway to Ashland, Southern Oregon and the entire state, with approximately 60 percent of visitors arriving to Oregon through our corridor. We are open to the public year-round, free of charge, providing an authentic message and unique travel experience.

As the sidewalks, hotel rooms, restaurants and parking spaces fill with visitors this spring that lead us into the busy summer, fall and holiday season, we invite you to remember that the Ashland visitor is valuable to Ashland. They sustain the amenities you enjoy as a local.

Katharine Cato is director of sales, marketing and the Visitor and Convention Bureau for the Ashland Chamber of Commerce. For more information, go to www.ashlandchamber.com, call 541-482-3486 or stop by the office at 110 East Main St.