J.D. Power surveyed 26,000 visitors to the top 50 tourist markets in the U.S., asking each more than 100 questions about various aspects of their trip. We ranked 37th among the 50 destinations. Yeah, ouch.

Share story

Seattle’s a great place to live — but would you want to visit here?

Maybe not, according to a new study of visitor satisfaction at major U.S. tourist destinations.

Market research company J.D. Power surveyed 26,000 visitors to the top 50 tourist markets in the U.S., asking each more than 100 questions about various aspects of their travels. Researchers then tabulated the responses to score each destination.

Seattle didn’t fare so well.

With a score of 785 out of a possible 1,000 points, we ranked 37th among the 50 destinations. Higher-ranked cities include Indianapolis; Jacksonville, Fla.; and Columbus, Ohio. Ouch.

One small consolation: At least we did better than Portland, which ranked 43rd.

For the study, more than 600 visitors to Seattle were surveyed, a mix of single people, couples and families. Most were leisure travelers — about one in four came for business, or combined business and pleasure. The study was designed so that these visitor demographics were fairly consistent across the 50 destinations.

As it turns out, tourists complain about the same things as people who live here.

You guessed it: Seattle is too expensive.

Visitors kvetched about the cost of almost everything — lodging, transportation and parking, and entertainment and activities. Food and drink was the one area where most folks felt they got their money’s worth.

“The cost factor seems to be hindering Seattle,” said Jennifer Corwin, associate practice lead in travel and hospitality at J.D. Power. She noted the high cost of hotels here, particularly in summer months.

According to data collected by Hotels.com, Seattle was the ninth-most expensive city to book a room in 2016, with an average nightly rate of $193.

It’s a question of value, Corwin says. “If you stay at a Best Western in Seattle, is it really any better than a Best Western in Phoenix or somewhere else where the rates are cheaper? Probably not.”

Visitors to Seattle want to explore our region’s mind-blowing natural beauty, so they are often on the road — and stuck in traffic, like the rest of us. Road congestion handed the city its lowest score in the survey, in fact. And apparently vacationers to Seattle get lost a lot — those surveyed thought signage on the roads and in town could be improved.

Seattle also received poor marks for the lack of friendliness of staff at restaurants and bars, sightseeing destinations and sporting-event venues. And the city got dinged for perceptions of safety and the lack of public facilities.

It’s not all bad news. We get the nod of approval for our food and drink scene — both its quality and variety. Visitors think there’s a ton of things to see and do in Seattle, and we have top-notch cultural offerings. They also give us props for our public transit and the cleanliness of the metro area.

In just about every category, though, we’re far behind the study’s top-ranked destination: Las Vegas. Scoff if you will, but Vegas is a city built on tourism, and visitors — 43 million of them in 2016 — get exactly what they came for.

Survey respondents had to have made an overnight stay at the destination within the last 60 days and traveled at least 50 miles from home to get there. They visited the destination of their own accord, not for the purpose of the survey.

Even though the survey didn’t ask about weather, it seems like sunshine and warmth factored into visitors’ feelings. All of the top five destinations are in the South or Southwest. The study was fielded from February to July in 2016, so it captured winter, spring and summer months.

Corwin concedes that seasonality is a factor to consider in comparing how the cities scored.

“Looking at Chicago in the winter is a little different from looking at Orlando in the winter,” she said. “You guys have a pretty temperate climate in Seattle, so not as much of an effect there — but I know you have a rainy season.”

No kidding.

Corwin says the goal of the survey is to provide cities with information, helping them to pinpoint areas for improvement.

But David Blandford, vice president of communications for Visit Seattle, sounds a bit skeptical. He wonders if Seattle performed poorly in this survey because the questions were so specific, rather than about overall perceptions of the visitor experience here.

“Much more commonly, we’re seeing visitor rankings where Seattle is in the top 10,” he said. “Thirty-seven does seem very low.”

Corwin wouldn’t argue with that.

“Just so you know,” she confided, “Seattle’s one of my favorite destinations.”