Racers ski off to start the 2019 Ski to Sea race
Tourism spending in Whatcom County jumped in 2018 as more people appear to have discovered this area’s outdoor recreation spots.
Last year an estimated $705.7 million in travel spending came to Whatcom County, an increase of about 9 percent compared to 2017. That’s according to report put together by Dean Runyan Associates for the Washington Tourism Alliance. Whatcom County ranks fifth-highest in visitor spending across the state, behind King, Pierce, Spokane and Snohomish counties.
Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism focused much of its marketing on outdoor recreation and attracting visitors from the Seattle area, both of which were strong growth markets in 2018. That’s according to Sandy Ward, president and CEO of the organization.
With outdoor recreation, Ward said they spent time going to outdoor recreation trade shows, promoting the variety of races and events in Whatcom County. Combined together, registrations for all the events they promoted saw a 10 percent increase last year, Ward said in an interview with The Bellingham Herald.
She noted they had success finding people who enjoy competing in areas they hadn’t been to before, creating trips around these events.
A focus on the Seattle market was also a strategy because data show Seattle area residents are often return to Whatcom County after they visit once, Ward said.
While spending was up, hotel occupancy was basically flat in 2018. According to data collected by Smith Travel Research, the occupation rate was 64% last year in Bellingham and 63% in Whatcom County. Ward said one factor might be the rise of short-term rentals in Whatcom County. Short-term rentals is an industry Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism is currently gathering more data on to learn about its impact.
The Dean Runyan report about Whatcom County noted the tourism spending supported 6,910 jobs and provided nearly $18 million in local taxes.