Skift Take

Portland is going to need another tourism champion, one who will be an outspoken advocate.

Portland is losing a tourism champion. Jeff Miller, who has served for 19 years as CEO and president of Travel Portland, the city’s destination marketing organization, will retire in December, reported Northstar Meetings Group.

Miller oversaw the city’s tourism recovery and led a staff of about 70 full- and part-time employees and an annual budget of about $30 million. He defended Portland’s image against negative media associations with crime and violence. News outlets had repeatedly shown images of the city in a doom loop years after the civil unrest surrounding the murder of George Floyd subsided.

“What the press has reported on Portland has changed dramatically,” Miller told Skift last June. “Now, if we can just get them to stop using pictures from three years ago, we will be fine.”

Portland had to fill the gap left by conventions pulling out amid the unrest. “During the pandemic, with a hundred days of protest and all of the violence and all the reporting, most cities rebooked [conventions] into future years. And we did too, but not to the degree that other cities did,” Miller told Skift in September. 

“Our team has done an amazing job of filling those holes, but there are more to be filled,” he said.

Reversing Negative Suburban Traveler Sentiment

A major objective of Miller was to reignite suburbanite interest in visiting Portland’s downtown.

The share of Portlanders who would recommend the city to out-of-town friends and family fell from 88 percent in 2017 to 61 percent in 2023, with most of the negative sentiment concentrating in the suburbs, according to Travel Portland.

Miller pointed to the spread of remote work and negative media coverage as the reasons why suburbanite sentiment dropped.

“The reputational damage that Portland suffered certainly extended locally and Portlanders have always been very, very proud of their city,” said Miller. “I think it’s taken a bit of time to get people back into the core to see what’s going on.”

Against Public Drug Abuse

Miller publicly spoke out in support of a ban on public drug use. In November 2020, Oregon approved ballot Measure 110, decriminalizing possession of small amounts of controlled substances.

Miller spoke up on the impact of public drug use on the city’s tourism industry. “Portland’s hospitality industry is in a crisis, and it can be linked to the conditions on our streets with open drug dealing and usage,” he told the city council at a hearing in September.

In that same month, Portland’s city council passed an ordinance that banned the use of controlled substances on public property.

“We need to make major and significant changes, compassionate changes, but we need to find places for these people to get off the street,” Miller told Skift in September.

Miller spoke on-stage at the Skift Global Forum in New York last September.

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Tags: ceos, destination marketing organizations, dmos, executives, portland, tourism

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