Hope, hard work lift prospects for visitor upturn

Ending 2021 on an omicron note wasn’t ideal for Spokane’s tourism industry, but Visit Spokane is looking at a solid upturn in 2022. People are hungry for travel, and we’re ready to welcome them.

Like Cobra Kai’s Johnny Lawrence sweeping Daniel LaRusso’s leg in Karate Kid, COVID and its many incarnations have cut down Spokane’s meetings and hospitality industry numerous times. It’s impossible to heal when you keep getting whacked in the same place. Two years of the pandemic decimated the travel and tourism industry in Spokane County. Visitors spent $1.3 billion in 2019. That number dwindled to $881.2 million in 2020. The numbers for 2021 aren’t available yet.

Hope and hard work spring eternal. Twenty-two citywide conferences are on the books for 2022. That’s more large conferences on the books than were hosted in 2019. Citywides are valuable because they bring many people who activate the entire city. They use our hotels, shop, and spend money at our restaurants and attractions for several days. One notable conference is the Public Relations Society of America Travel & Tourism national conference. In addition to the PR professionals who attend, the gathering brings top-tier travel publications, which could land Spokane in national magazines.

Free and positive press is precisely what Visit Spokane aims for as a destination marketing organization. It’s our job to tell the world about the Spokane region. We bring conventions, meetings, and leisure travelers to Spokane County who fill up hotels, restaurants, the Convention Center, and other venues. We market everything the region has to offer. We pitch Spokane to magazine editors and journalists around the country. Those articles and lists in USA Today or National Geographic touting all the great things about the Spokane region aren’t happy accidents. They are a strategic effort coordinated by Visit Spokane to generate interest with meeting planners, leisure travelers, and even people considering a permanent move to Spokane.

If you’re wondering why you should care about Spokane’s meetings, hospitality, and tourism industry, we’ll tell you. The revenue generated by visitors benefits every person who lives here. When people visit, they stay in our hotels, eat in our restaurants, and shop. They pay a bed tax and a sales tax. That provides tax relief to every household in Spokane County. Pre-COVID, that number was $1,000 in tax relief.

The Podium is a beautiful new asset and promotional point for Spokane. We look forward to the events and visitors it brings. Indeed, Spokane Sports Commission predicts 150,000 visitors will attend events in 2022. We’re just as excited for the new outdoor stadium currently under construction. More venues equal more events, which means more people visit Spokane County.

In 2020, we were awarded $2.5 million in CARES Act funding, which we then used to create the “Room to Roam” marketing campaign. We flooded Seattle and Portland with ads to drive on over and safely visit. It worked. We booked over $5 million in hotel room revenue for Spokane County hotels. We’ll continue to advertise using our “Room to Roam” campaign. Anecdotally, the Visitor Information Center reports it had some of its busiest days ever in the summer of 2021.

At the height of the pandemic, Visit Spokane laid off 70% of its staff, leaving 11 people to shoulder the workload. We’re back to 20 full-time employees and one part-time employee. It’s a sign of positive growth. Visit Spokane never stopped working for Spokane County, and we plan to continue to book conventions and entice visitors to check out this place we all love and call home.

Meg Winchester is president and CEO of Visit Spokane.

Article Source: Spokane Journal