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Oregon’s biggest city has ‘long way to go’ repairing its rep, Portland’s tourism promoters report

Portland police again declared riot in September 2020 in 100th straight night of protests
Portland police again declared riot in September 2020 in 100th straight night of protests

Associated Press/Report for America

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Portland’s “badly damaged” reputation – marked by months of destructive protests, a homeless crisis and record year of homicides – is hurting the standing of Oregon’s largest city, according to the city’s main tourism promoter.

Travel Portland, the city’s tourism promotion group partly funded by taxes, presented data to the City Council and mayor this week showing the city has declined to its “lowest level” of being a likely destination for delegates to attend conferences. Just 64% of surveyed tourists said they would visit Portland again.

“There’s an old old saying, ‘It takes a lifetime to build a reputation and you can ruin it in an instant.’ That’s true of cities, as it is people,” Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said in response to the Travel Portland data. “And we’re just going to have to commit to that long-term process of improving the safety and the livability and the economic prosperity of the city.”

The liberal city had long been known nationally for its ambrosial food scene, craft breweries and nature-loving hipsters. But last year, it became the epicenter of racial justice protests following the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis.

For months, a small downtown area was consumed by protests that often turned violent, with clashes between demonstrators and federal agents, plumes of teargas, fireworks exploding in the streets and rubber bullets flying through the air.

While Portland’s violent protests have largely eased, there are still outbreaks— including earlier this month. Amid a vigil for a slain activist killed two years ago, a crowd of 100 people smashed storefront windows, ignited fires in dumpsters and caused at least $500,000 in damage to city buildings and businesses.

The Travel Portland data shows that more than half of event planners and two-thirds of attendees surveyed recently indicated that their “likelihood” to book or attend meetings in the city over the next two years was heavily influenced by the “visibility” of racial and social protests.

“The impact of this is that we likely won’t even get the opportunity to bid on many conventions for the next two years, which will affect our long-term successes well into the future,” said Jeff Miller, the president and CEO of Travel Portland.

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