Every city should have a fan like Jeff Miller, whose messages across the world keep Portland on the map.
As CEO and president of Travel Portland, Miller constantly works in collaboration with other organizations to keep our state’s unique livability top of mind. It also helps to keep Portland thriving.
“Portland is distinct,” he says. “The culture is really nice, creative and quirky.”
Keeping that message afloat makes a great difference in the local economy. In 2017, for example, the Portland metro region generated $5.1 billion in direct spending and supported more than 35,000 jobs.
Of those who travel here, 41 percent are ages 25 to 44, while 30 percent are ages 45 to 64. A respectable 11 percent are ages 65 and older.
A Tourism Master Plan for Portland is “intentional about how the quality of life for residents can be balanced with the quality of the visitor experience, and how Travel Portland can grow the tourism industry for all,” Miller says.
It takes creativity and dedication to win tourists and Miller has it. Because he is “selling” Portland domestically and internationally, he’s always on the go, and often bringing along some the city’s interesting residents to help tell their story.
He focuses on direct flights to Portland from Japan, Amsterdam, Germany, the United Kingdom and Iceland — international locales that bring the most tourists to Portland. Surprisingly — or not — the number one request by tourists is where they can find the nearest cannabis shop. That question is often followed by how to find Salt and Straw ice cream, and Betsy and Iya jewelry.
Miller also travels to Washington, D.C., six times a year, visits international sites to tell Portland’s story, and has hosted large numbers of media writers in New York City, where he spreads the word about Portland’s assets.
“Tourists like the mix of people,” Miller says. “Many new creative people have moved here to start businesses because the city is known for welcoming new entrepreneurs.”
Be a tourist in your own city
If you’re local — or want to feel like a local — Miller offers several suggestions on getting to know Portland.
First, he says, the city has 15 vibrant neighborhoods, each with their own character, and they give Portland its personality. He recommends getting on the MAX and then stopping off frequently to explore the areas. It’s a great way to have a “vacation,” he says, without having to leave town. Effervescent neighborhoods, such as Northwest 23rd, Mississippi and Alberta, are popular and fun.
After Miller took Ian Williams with him on a trip to Japan, younger Japanese visitors can’t get enough of Deadstock, a coffeehouse in Old Town owned by Williams that also features his large collection of sneakers. Join the crowd and become a “sneakerhead,” too.
If you like art, check out the “incredible art scene” in the Pearl District, specifically the First Thursday art walk. Miller’s favorite is Froelick Gallery.
Because summer brings many more tourists, venues like Portland’s lively farmer’s markets are thriving. “It gets people to think about where good food comes from,” he says. Travel Portland supports agri-tourism with farm visits, and special dinner events at the farms where guests can meet with the chef.
Miller has also taken Gregory Gourdet, the trend-setting chef of Departures, a pan-Asian restaurant at the top of The Nines Hotel, on several scouting trips to Japan.
His lively multi-media presentation to New York food writers in June was an effort to attract them to Portland, where many wanted to learn more about Portland’s food culture and its 600 food carts.
“The carts are considered the ‘heart and soul’ of the city, which is very unusual,” Miller says.
Travel Portland and its many partners are working to save and relocate food carts being pushed off a downtown block so that a high-rise building can be built.
Biking is touted as a way to see the city on the street, so bike tours and bike “tasting tours” are provided. In addition, downtown city blocks are short, so walking around is easy and fun.
If you’re looking for some events, try:
Pickathon Music Festival, a Travel Portland-sponsored gathering of artists and audiences at Pendarvis Farm, an 80-acre property in Happy Valley, just outside of Portland. It attracts musicians from indie, rock, rap and bluegrass. Half the fun, Miller says, is not having heard of any of these artists before.
If you want to attend, visit travelportland.com for more details. Camping is recommended at this family-friendly event.
My People’s Market is a partnership between Travel Portland and Prosper Portland. This twice-yearly event brings together multicultural entrepreneurs in a festival atmosphere to sell goods, and to network with one another. There is a cultural component as well.
In the works
Another major project in the works is the James Beard Public Market, now destined for the OMSI blocks to attract both locals and tourists. Also in development is a six-mile “green loop” that will circle downtown Portland and include all its parks and walking spaces, among other attractions.
“We want to be sure that changes in the city are positive,” says Miller, who supports diversity, healthy neighborhoods, interesting retail and other businesses.