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Bellevue becoming a booming tourist destination

BELLEVUE, Wash. -- The summer 2017 tourism season is just getting underway and the Eastside is a place most people don’t think about when they think of tourism in Western Washington.

The City of Bellevue saw 1.6 million visitors in 2016, up 14.3% percent from 2015. Visit Bellevue’s executive director, Stacy Graven says she expects another strong summer tourism season this year.

"We're staying in Bellevue,” said Melissa Millis on a cross-country road trip with her mother and friend after graduating college. They came in from Washington, D.C and chose to stay in Bellevue while checking out Washington state.

"We expected it to be a total hassle to get into Seattle, but it's been pretty easy. After we did the city stuff we were like, okay, we want some nature too. So, it seemed like a good middle point if you want a balanced vacation,” said Millis who said they went on two hikes around Snoqualmie Falls after visiting Pike Place Market in Seattle and seeing the Space Needle.

Graven says proximity to top tourist spots is one of the appeals of Bellevue.

"Within 15 minutes you can be in Seattle, you can be in Woodinville wine country, you can be hiking at Tiger Mountain,” said Graven.

She adds that Bellevue is a “clean, safe and new city,” Graven says appeals to families.

Bellevue's safety also a draw for families.

“Going to a downtown setting like Seattle is great and vibrant but sometimes it’s nice to come back to your hotel room and have it be a little quieter and have everything you want and feel safe going out in the streets,” said Graven.

She adds that Bellevue’s exponential growth in tourism is largely because of a strong economy bringing in major companies and those employees bringing in families and visitors.

"Overnight stays in Bellevue have increased 20% over last year,” said Graven

The city has three new hotels opening in the summer of 2017. Existing hotels average a 75% occupancy rate. Graven says weekdays are very popular in Bellevue whereas Seattle tends to see more tourists on weekends.

The city has also made walkability a priority.

"The Mercer Slough is a wonderful place for people to take a kayak, we've got zip-lining at South Bellevue Park, and we've got waterfront access too,” said Graven.

Bellevue’s diverse population means more choices in things like cuisine.

"We just had Thai food, I was waiting for Thai food this whole trip,” said an excited Millis.

High-end shopping at The Bravern also a draw for many tourists.

"Oh yeah, I've loved this,” said Millis about her vacation in Bellevue.

Graven said Bellevue has become a majority, minority town meaning 51% of the population are ethnic minorities which translates into international visitors, but for the most part Graven says Bellevue’s tourism is from domestic visitors.