Local tourism did much better than larger cities in Washington

SPOKANE, Wash. — Tourism’s been hit hard. Fewer people traveling means less business for hotels, but new data shows Spokane is faring much better compared to larger cities such as Seattle and Portland.

The data comes from STR, Inc., a nationally used hotel-data collection firm. Data from the report says Spokane saw more tourism action in 2020 than other cities. In a normal year, Spokane would see around 80% hotel room occupancy during peak-hotel seasons. Last year was anything but normal; however, Spokane stayed competitive. Spokane Valley hit 70% occupancy. Spokane County hit 55% capacity, and downtown Spokane hit 45% occupancy.

Seattle did much worse–the city barely scratched the surface reaching only 10% occupancy in 2020. The data shows success in Spokane.

“There’s no doubt that we fared better than our competitive destinations. Any kind of movement creates usually some kind of economic spending, right,” said Jamie Rand, the CMO for Visit Spokane, “whether it’s on gas or it’s on food or it’s on whatever–so our job was just to get them moving.”

When the pandemic hit, Visit Spokane decided to market Spokane’s outdoor appeal as a safe place to  travel during COVID restrictions. Spokane is a drive city with a lot of natural beauty — perfect for a safe getaway.

“The goal was just to try to encourage people to come and travel safely,” Rand said.

While the numbers look better for Spokane than they do for other cities, hotels have still been hit hard. They lost money, many shut down and lots are still feeling the pressures of the pandemic.

“Here we are, and the thing they said would never happen in the industry, we saw lodging properties across the state close,” said Anthony Anton, Washington Hospitality Association’s CEO. “On the hotel side, it’s the building maintenance and the building operation. Your number one cost continues to go on, continues to rack up bills and continues to build debt service.”

In Spokane County, hotels usually average around $100 a room over the summer. In 2020, Spokane County’s revenue per available room was only around $65.

“We almost don’t talk about them as much because they are allowed to be open, but the travel is down,” Anton said.

“This is a case where we’re the best of a bad situation,” Rand said.

To help the industry bounce back, experts are encouraging staycations and checking out the natural beauty all Washington has to offer as the state re-opens.

“Your local travel industry is going to need you more than ever,” Anton said. “Help us get through this two-, three-, four-year window while the state to state and international travel is down by exploring Washington.”

“In terms of the notoriety and people understanding where Spokane is, what it has to offer, I just think that this time is an enormous  opportunity for our community,” Rand said.