Can Oregon Wine Tourism Survive the Portland Problem?
“Five Days After Attack, Andy Ngo Releases Statement Confirming He Was Chased and Beaten in Portland”
“‘It’s frightened people away’: Downtown Portland hotels slow to recover due to pandemic, reputation”
“Demonstrations in Portland | The Official Guide to Portland—TRAVEL PORTLAND”
“Majority of downtown Portland merchants say city core is unsafe”
“Downtown in distress: Portland’s core is unsafe and uninviting, residents say in new poll, threatening city’s recovery”
“Why Portland’s Homeless Problem Is The Worst In The Nation”
If you are a Willamette Valley winery looking to wine tourism to bring back normality and revenue, you’d be crazy not to worry about the above recent headlines describing the problems that currently beset Portland, Oregon. This must be particularly worrying when you consider that more than 50% of wine tourists originate from outside the state, according to a 2019 study conducted by the Willamette Valley Winery Association.
Outside of Minneapolis, no location in the country has been dogged by violent protests more so than Portland, Oregon and the situation has not gone unnoticed across the country. Think what you might about the controversial decision of the Trump administration to send in federal troops to protect federal property in the city in 2020, but the move drew attention to the plight of the city as it suffered through violent protests, the regular and continuing property damage caused by Antifa/BLM actions and the near-daily declarations of riots.
Combine this situation with the well-known, and growing, homelessness epidemic in the city and we are motivated to ask not will this slow recovery within the Oregon wine industry, but rather to what extent will the post-pandemic economic recovery of the Oregon wine industry be impacted?
The most recent blow to Portland’s reputation comes with the news that Independent journalist Andy Ngo was chased through the streets of Portland, attacked and beaten by “protesters” before retreating into a swanky downtown hotel where he was forced to beg for protection as his attackers screamed threats and pounded on the hotel’s windows and doors. This lasted just up until the moment Portland’s riot police arrived and whisked Mr. Ngo out a back door to the hotel and arrested one or more of his attackers.
This doesn’t make Portland sound like a safe place to be for those contemplating a post-pandemic wine vacation.
The question is to what extent will the diminishing reputation of Portland impact the decision of wine tourists to choose Oregon as a destination? Wine tourism represents three-quarters of a billion dollars in economic activity. Visits to the Willamette Valley wineries and those southward impact hotels and restaurants, not to mention the wineries themselves and their critical wine club revenue that is generated primarily by visitors who want constant reminders of their visit.
Any negative impact of Portland descent into chaos on the state’s winery tourism will likely have a significant benefit for wineries located in Walla Walla, Napa, Sonoma and other wine regions across the country as the wine-lovers look for alternatives to protests, Antifa and the omnipresent homelessness in Portland that doesn’t exactly soothe the eye.
The likelihood of the Oregon wine industry’s post-pandemic recovery being hampered by Portland’s growing negative reputation will spur the state and regional winery trade associations to become more active in demanding government action to the various obstacles now poised to impact the Oregon wine industry. They’ll be joined by other hospitality concerns—hotels, restaurants and regional tourism boards—joining in amped up calls for a response.
Maybe the protests will peter out as vaccination rates soar past herd immunity and life returns to normal in the Rose City. But maybe they won’t. If the protests and violence and attacks and property damage continue and as homelessness does not abate, city and state leaders will be under significant pressure to take action. Homelessness solutions are linked to a revived economy and social services directed at the problem. The Antifa/BLM problem will likely linger throughout the summer in the absence of any significant crackdown by Portland authorities. But whatever is done, you can bet it will be spurred on by calls from the state’s economic interests including the growing wine industry.