Visit Bellevue this morning honored half a dozen individuals, companies and organizations with its first-ever Bellevue Destination Awards, recognizing contributors from a broader tourism industry who generated $1 billion in economic impact last year even as the pandemic continued to impede travel.
How tough has the pandemic been for travel and tourism? The industry’s economic impact on Bellevue fell from nearly $1.8 billion before the pandemic in 2019 to $737 million in 2020 before recovering somewhat over the past year.
“The past two years have been the toughest the travel industry has ever faced,” said Brad Jones, chief executive of Visit Bellevue, the city’s destination management organization. “Long closures, record job losses, difficulties getting back into work, uncertainty and fear – life without travel and socializing has been tough. But now the industry is turning its gaze to the future, the future of travel, the future where family, friends and colleagues can reunite.”
Today’s event at the Meydenbauer Center was an opportunity to recognize those who have not only weathered the pandemic, but continue to contribute to the city’s appeal as a place to dine, shop, dine, linger and entertain. Visit Bellevue intends to make the Bellevue Destination Awards an annual event.
“I can’t think of a better time as we approach the light at the end of the COVID tunnel to celebrate the most outstanding individuals, companies and organizations in our industry,” said host Jen Mueller, broadcast journalist at Root Sports, before presenting the winners nominations presented were sought, submitted and selected by a panel of industry professionals and peers.
Winner of the 2022 Bellevue Destination Awards
– Company of the Year: Whisk, a retailer of kitchenware, bakeware, barware and tableware and a cooking class venue featuring chefs from diverse culinary backgrounds. It is run by Ann and Don Perinchief.
– Rising Honors: Jiayi Jin of Hilton Bellevue
– Outstanding Person: Jeannie Mikkelsen of Hyatt Regency
– Event of the Year: Wintergrass Music Festival, a four-day, family-friendly bluegrass and acoustic music festival.
– Marketing Campaign of the Year: The Bellevue Collection for their Shop & Stay Getaway promotion during the pandemic
– Convention of the Year: Washington DECA, which Mueller called the “conventional powerhouse in Bellevue” that brings thousands of students to the city each year, generating a total of $3.2 million in economic impact for both the state career development conference and also for the leadership conference in the fall. ”
John Howie, executive chef and owner of Seastar Restaurant & Raw Bar, John Howie Steak, Beardslee Public House, Wildwood Spirits Co. and Whiskey by John Howie, was the keynote speaker at the event. He welcomed Bellevue as he shared his restaurant journey in the city he’s called home since 1967. That included weathering the dot-com crash, the Great Recession, and now the pandemic, not to mention countless other challenges related to starting and running businesses. He credited perseverance, determination, drive, community support and his loyal, hard-working staff, whom he described as having “a keen sense of hospitality”; They are the backbone of my organization.”
He noted that Seastar’s 20th anniversary was on March 11, after it opened in Bellevue six months to the day after 9/11 and amid the dot-com bust.
Howie also pointed out that he opened the Sport Restaurant & Bar across from the Space Needle in Seattle in 2005 just before the SuperSonics left, a location that closed in 2018. He then opened Seattle Seastar (which closed in 2015) in January 2009 and John Howie Steak in Bellevue in September 2009, “the only jerk to open two stores in the middle of a terrible recession,” he joked.
“My timing wasn’t always the best. My lovely wife and I used to joke, if you want to know when the economic climate is going to drop, just check with me and see if I open a restaurant,” Howie said to laughter and applause. “If it wasn’t me, you were assured that economic growth was coming and that it would be fine.”
When asked by a viewer after his presentation if he plans to open more restaurants, Howie responded with even more laughter and applause.
“There’s no plan at the moment so it’s looking good.”
Concluding his presentation, Howie said, “The future for Bellevue as a business and… tourist destination is bright. It’s really very bright and I, having been here since 1967, can’t believe where we are now. … I look forward to where the next 20 years will take us and where the community will go from here. I’m amazed at where it’s gone in the last 20 years and if we stay true to ourselves, Bellevue will continue to be a great place to live and a great place to visit.”
Sam Cho, a Port of Seattle commissioner that operates Sea-Tac International Airport and the port, noted a strong recovery in the cruise industry this year, adding that 2022 is expected to be a record year for the port in terms of the number of cruise ships cruise ships will be.
“We are very aware that there is tremendous demand post COVID, not only for cruises but also for travel and tourism – and so I hope this region will benefit from that,” Cho said.
The cruise season, which runs from April through mid-October, is expected to have about $900 million in economic impact on the region, he said.
Bellevue Council Member Janice Zahn, who celebrated the city’s continued development, said Bellevue is on track to become the third largest downtown in the Pacific Northwest, behind Seattle and Vancouver, BC
“Today we’re celebrating what we already know: The Bellevue is where you want to be. So let’s cement Bellevue as a place worthy of being on every single person’s wish list and we will welcome them,” she said. “Thank you for being an integral part of our current and future success as a destination known for our rich culture, vibrant arts scene, beautiful views, abundant activities and welcoming atmosphere.”