Visitor traffic, spending increases in Spokane area

Thursday, May 11, 2017

(as reported in the Journal of Business by LeAnn Bjerken)

Visitor traffic and spending in Spokane County increased last year, says Visit Spokane President and CEO Cheryl Kilday, citing a recently released annual report compiled by Portland, Ore.-based travel research group Dean Runyan Associates.

The report shows visitors to Spokane County spent $995 million here last year, an increase of $48 million, or 5 percent over the previous year. 

The report put the number of overnight visitors to Spokane County in 2016 at 3.55 million, about 4 percent higher than 2015’s total of 3.4 million. 

Kilday contends the increase in total visitors and visitor spending is due in part to the organization’s continuous efforts to market the region. 

“Our digital marketing campaigns performed above the national average for click-throughs and there were strong indicators of intent to travel combined with relevant engagement with the leisure travelers we felt that helped drive visitation,” she says. 

According to the report, total direct tax receipts from visitor spending rose to $70 million last year, from $65 million the previous year, and the report says total direct industry employment in the county stemming from visitors rose by about 450 workers, to 10,250 last year from 9,800 in 2015. 

Visit Spokane says economic impact from visitor spending comes from three areas of travel: conventions, meetings, and events; leisure travel; and business transient travel or those who come to Spokane on business.

The report estimated that Spokane-area visitors who stayed at hotels and motels spent $570 million in 2016, up from $534 million in 2015, and those who were guests in private homes spent $250 million, up from $245 million in 2015. 

The report estimated about 244,000 visitors stayed in Spokane-area campgrounds or vacation homes last year, spending about $13 million, roughly the same amount spent in 2015.

Day travelers spent an estimated $161 million here in 2016, up from about $156 million in 2015. Visitors spent an estimated $167 million in air transportation, up from about $164 million in 2015. 

They spent $317 million in food service, up from $299 million the previous year, and $106 million on arts, entertainment, and recreation, up from $101 million in 2015, the report says. 

While the report showed increases in most visitor spending areas, an exception was convention attendance and spending. 

In 2016, 60,362 people attended conventions here, and the economic impact in Spokane County was about $324 million, down nearly 9 percent from the prior year’s $352 million. 

However, Kilday attributes the year-over-year decrease mostly to Spokane’s 2015 hosting of WorldCon, a science fiction convention that boosted the numbers for that year. 

“Year over year, both were strong with conventions, and the biggest difference is that one group (WorldCon) was so large in the number of days delegates were here and the number of people attending,” she says.

She says there are several conventions coming to Spokane this summer that are expected to have strong visitor attendance, including the Council of Higher Education Management Association this month, the Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the 2017 Porsche Parade, the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, and the International Cake Exploration Societe.

While it’s difficult to say how Spokane’s 2016 visitor spending numbers compare with state and national trends, as neither have been calculated yet, Kilday says Visit Spokane expects continued and steady growth in visitation to the Spokane region again this year. 

“Our continued sales and marketing efforts are including more emphasis on tour groups, refined geo-targeting for leisure travel, and a continued sales program for meetings and groups,” she says.

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