Homeless problem, 'street scene' costing Seattle conventions and tourism dollars, expert says

SEATTLE – Memorial Day marks the unofficial start to the summer season.  That means billions of tourism dollars pumping into the city.

Nearly 40 million people visited Seattle and King County in 2017 spending more than $7 billion in 2017 alone.

That revenue isn’t immune to the city’s growing homeless problem.

“I love it. it’s so pretty like everywhere you turn it’s gorgeous,” said Asya Thompson.

Flight attendants Aysa Thompson and Kenyetta Murray travel for a living, but Seattle still stands out.

“So much food, beautiful flowers, and the market is beautiful,” said Murray.

From Pike Place Market to the Space Needle, something else is being pushed to the forefront.

“We walked around and we noticed it was a homeless problem,” said Murray.

The Space Needle is normally the first stop for tourists in our area and right next door there are now growing homeless encampments. It’s starting to cost the city tourism dollars.

“For the first time over the last couple of years, we’ve lost conventions to other cities because of what we would call the street scene. I wouldn’t say it’s just homelessness, it’s more of a sense of civility and safety on the streets, cleanliness on the streets,” said Visit Seattle CEO & President Tom Norwalk.

Visit Seattle is a private, nonprofit marketing group serving as Seattle and King County's official destination marketing organization -- something it has done for more than 50 years. It tracks tourism in Seattle.

Norwalk hopes the growing homeless problem doesn’t interfere with eight consecutive years of tourism growth.

“Sometimes it’s not comfortable and that combination of things makes some meeting-planners fearful for their future attendees coming to the city,” said Norwalk.

Recent news headlines about homelessness further damage Seattle’s image when people Google the city and think about planning a trip here.

“It’s something we’re addressing more head-on, about the issues on the streets, what we’re doing as a city and as a county to address those, and at least there’s been quite a bit of talk and we’re hoping for some action,” said Norwalk.

Action is what Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan is promising. She announced a plan Wednesday to get 500 people off the streets in the next 90 days.  The clock is already ticking as Norwegian’s largest cruise ship on the West Coast draws even more attention to the city.

“Through leadership and accountability, I think we can get there,” said Norwalk.

And as more tourists head to Seattle this summer season…

“They (homeless people) want to be around people. So I feel like they’re coming closer" to where tourists are, Murray said.