When you own a business in a place that sees the majority of its visitor traffic during two months of the year – July and August – you have to get creative if you want to survive the winter. More and more, visitors are looking for authentic experiences and annual traditions that help them get to know a place better. In Lincoln City, the destination management organization has leveraged the community’s greatest asset – its smooth, 7-mile beach – to lure visitors during the least-busiest months of the year.
The city’s ongoing Finders Keepers event, which runs mid-October through Memorial Day, is driving visitation during months many communities see a significant dip in tourism-related revenue.
The idea itself is simple: The Lincoln City Visitor & Convention Bureau hires local artists to create 3,000 handcrafted glass floats. Then local volunteers, or “float ferries,” drop the floats — each with a unique number — along the beach at random times for visitors to find and keep. The Visitor Information Center keeps records of each float so that visitors can call or stop by to learn about the artist.
Each month Finders Keepers draws thousands of people, who stay in local hotels, eat at restaurants and shop in the city’s independent stores. Many visitors even try their hand at glass blowing. Not everyone who comes looking for a glass float on the beach finds one. But anyone can make their own. Seven days a week, visitors can watch a demonstration or make their own piece of glass art at Jennifer Sears Glass Art Studio. (People are advised to book early to schedule a 30-minute session, which are open to people age 8 and older.)
Over the last 18 years, Finders Keepers has been a boon to the local economy, if one were to use local transient room tax (TRT) as an indicator of success. Numerous factors impact the TRT (weather, seasonality, events, the health of the overall economy, to name a few). But during the month of October, which is the official kick-off month of Finders Keepers, Lincoln City has seen a steady growth rate of just over 5 percent since 2009, according to Eric Johnson, public relations coordinator for Lincoln City Visitor & Convention Bureau.
“That may seem like a small proportion, but over time that extra 5 percent in lodging revenue goes directly into our local economy,” Johnson says. “Extra revenue means that cash registers are full and restaurants and retailers are weathering the shoulder season. The direct and indirect impact of the Finders Keepers promotion on our local economy is substantial.”
The event began in 1999, when a local artist observed people picking up antique Japanese fishing floats that had washed up on the beach. That artist decided that hiding glass floats would be a fun way to entice visitors to explore the beach and then visit local businesses such as glass-blowing studios. Eighteen years later, the tradition shows no signs of slowing down. “It doesn’t matter if rain is coming down sideways or the sun is shining. People still come out to search for glass floats.”
“The Finders Keepers program has truly sparked interest in glass art across all socioeconomic levels,” says Kelly Glass, an artist at Jennifer Sears Glass Art Studio. “People of all walks of life come in to make their own glass art. Finders Keepers has helped create jobs for many artists, including glass artists, metalworkers, woodworkers and jewelry makers. It has also given me the opportunity to meet and work with new artists and help build an identity for Lincoln City.”
If you see an opportunity to develop off-peak visitation in your community, consider applying for funding through the Travel Oregon Competitive Grants Program (next deadline, Spring 2018) or contacting Oregon Coast Visitors Association for assistance with finding resources to turn your idea into a reality.
Photo courtesy of Lincoln City.