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Cooling tourism trends at the coast

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Monday, June 01, 2009
ATSBeach Coastal businesses are hunkering down, lowering prices and trying to stay optimistic as they predict the same number of visitors will be filling Oregon beaches this summer but spending less money or shortening their vacations.

High-end hotels up and down the Coast have lowered their rates, and some are advertising special deals or increased amenities in an effort to attract frugal vacationers. The Oregon Restaurant Association predicts the quick service and casual dining businesses will do OK because of their local customer base, but that upscale restaurants will struggle.

The Greater Newport Chamber of Commerce reports a drop in lodging occupancy rates in February and March compared to last year, along with an increase in camping as travelers choose affordable options. The chamber expects the camping trend will continue this summer.

The Elizabeth Street Inn, which calls itself “Newport, Oregon’s newest luxury oceanfront inn,” has lowered its rates, increased its advertising and added amenities such as wireless Internet and hot breakfasts in an effort to attract customers.

“It’s something we needed to do to stay afloat during the recession,” says Jennifer Morkert, sales manager. “I’m hopeful right now. For our advance bookings, things are looking really good. We’re just not going to see the same price point as in the past.”

Other lodging owners are simply hunkering down. Donn Bauske has been in the motel business for more than 30 years and owns 10 motels in Seaside, including the Budget Inns of Seaside and the Sundowner Motor Inn. He reports a 15% drop in overall occupancy and a 20% drop at his more expensive hotels.

“I’ve seen ups and downs and that’s just the way it is,” says Bauske. “On the Coast, most of the time it’s the weather that will get you. Ten bad days in the summer and that’ll kill your profit right there, doesn’t matter if the tourists have any money.”

One area that is seeing growth is the popular Oregon Coast Aquarium, which reports that its attendance is up almost 12% this year and that there will be no cuts to summer staff levels.

“We’re doing extraordinarily well. Knock on wood!” says Cindy Hansen, aquarium public relations manager. “Families are still traveling. They still want to educate and entertain their children, even on a budget.”

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