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How the Seattle tourism industry is working to address homeless crisis

Combined, Seattle and King County get tens of millions of visitors moving through the region yearly. With that many people moving through the area, it’s bound to bring up a conversation surrounding a very visible homeless crisis, something the Seattle tourism industry has worked hard to address.

“I think it still is our number one concern, because at the heart of tourism we are one of the most walkable cities in America, and we sell that [and] we promote that,” Visit Seattle CEO Tom Norwalk told KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross.

When out-of-towners roll into Seattle, there’s a modicum of concern over safety, sanitation, and most importantly, showing the rest of the world that the city is doing what it can to solve the crisis.

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If tourists come to King County and Seattle and view the region as dispassionate and dangerous, the ripple effect can be significant.

“If your street experience is you feel unsafe, if you feel threatened, if you’re uncomfortable, it does have an impact on your willingness to either come back or what you do in the city,” Norwalk pointed out.

In terms of actively working to address homelessness, Norwalk sees the issue as multifaceted. While “more support from our police department” is at the top of his list of fixes, there are also solutions to be found in within local business.

“We’ve got critical needs and housing of all types; we’ve got critical needs and of social services of all types, and not all of that is borne by the city,” he described. “But we’ve got a lot of resources. I think it’s how we use them, how we prioritize, and then what role business plays, and I think we’re finding that business is stepping up more and more to help resolve some of these issues.”

So, how many tourists exactly are coming into Seattle and King County every year? The “gee whiz” numbers as Dave Ross calls them are staggering, with Norwalk citing roughly 21 million overnight visitors a year, and 41 million day visitors.

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For all of the region’s future tourists, the hope is to continue making progress to make Seattle the best city it can possibly be, inside and out.

“I think we’re moving in the right direction,” said Norwalk.

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