Business

They came, they competed, and they liked it so much they returned to Whatcom County

Racers ski off to start the 2019 Ski to Sea race

A total of 414 teams — that’s 3,322 racers — plan to take part in this year’s Ski to Sea race Sunday, May 26, 2019. A few are Olympic-caliber athletes while many are racing for the fun of it.
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A total of 414 teams — that’s 3,322 racers — plan to take part in this year’s Ski to Sea race Sunday, May 26, 2019. A few are Olympic-caliber athletes while many are racing for the fun of it.

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.

2018 Ski to Sea
Competitors storm from the starting area during the 2018 Ski to Sea race at the Mt. Baker Ski Area. Paul Conrad The Bellingham Herald file

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Dave Gallagher has covered the Whatcom County business community since 1998. Retail, real estate, jobs and port redevelopment are among the topics he covers.
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