BY PETER BELAND
It’s too early in the summer to be definitive about how Oregon’s peak tourism season will shape up, but early reports show Europe’s ongoing economic woes is meaning fewer visitors from the United Kingdom to Stumptown, but more tourism coming from Asia, Australia and New Zealand. The nearly $9 billion industry showed very little growth last year and fingers are crossed that this year will be better.
Barbara Steinfeld, VP of tourism sales for Travel Portland, says she’s seen an increase in groups from Australia and New Zealand visiting Portland in the past year. “Shopping costs twice as much or more there,” she says. And “we have no sales tax.” Last April, Paris held a “Keep Portland Weird” festival, and though there has been no notable increase of French tourists, Steinfeld is optimistic that the word is out about Portlandia.
While Portland seems to be holding its own with tourists, rural areas in the eastern and southern parts of the state are more sluggish compared to last year, according to Judiaann Woo of Travel Oregon, the state’s tourism agency.
Coastal tourism got a boost from the Japanese dock that washed ashore in Newport early June. There were “11,000 cars into Agate Beach wayside,” says Lucy Gibson, public relations director for Oregon Coast Visitors Association. Gibson says visitors who flocked to the coast also then visited other parts of the area. But unfortunately for tourism business, the dock was dismantled last week.
Asia — dock or no dock — will continue to play a significant role in Oregon’s tourism. Travel Oregon launched traveloregon.cn in mid-July, a Chinese-language website catering to the growing number of tourists from China. According to Travel Oregon, visitation to Oregon from China increased 34% in 2011.
“The international market is hot: Korea, Japan, and China is a new one. It’s an emerging market with a lot of potential,” says Woo, noting that the typical habits of Chinese tourists mean they spend a significant amount of money throughout the area. “They stay for several weeks and they travel throughout the whole state.” There are now more non-stop flights from international areas than ever. “It makes it easier for people to come,” says Woo.
Though it’s too early to say for certain how this year will end up, a report done for the Oregon Tourism Commission by Dean Runyan and Associates released in May found that for 2011, total tourism spending grew by only 2.6% (primarily because of higher room rates and transportation costs), though employment in the sector was up 1.9%, or 1,700 jobs, after two years of decline. The stagnation was blamed on a still-weak economy and higher transportation costs.
Other highlights from the report included:
* Overnight visitor volume was essentially unchanged from 2010. Visitor air travel was up by 0.5 percent, compared to a 2.1 percent increase from 2009 to 2010. Room demand, as measured by Smith Travel Research, increased by 2.1 percent for the year as compared to a 5.9 percent increase from 2009 to 2010.1
* The re-spending of travel-related revenues by businesses and employees supported 41,600 additional jobs outside of the travel industry with $1.4 billion in earnings in 2011. Most of these jobs were in various professional and business services.
* The Gross Domestic Product of the travel industry was $3.3 billion in 2011. Overall, the travel industry is one of the three largest export-oriented industries in rural Oregon counties (the other two being agriculture/food processing and logging/wood products).
Peter Beland is a contributing writer to Oregon Business.