Despite the damage done to the tourism industry, there are redemptive actions that can be taken.

As industries across the country start the recovery process after being financially pummeled by COVID-19, one sector, in particular, has been hit tremendously hard: tourism.

DANIELLE KANEIn Oregon, tourism revenue is a significant economic pillar. A consistent influx of visitors to our scenic national parks and trails generates money spent in restaurants, breweries, tours, and lodging, all of which employ Oregonians and propels growth.

In 2019, tourism employed 117,500 Oregonians; employee earnings were up to $3.8 billion; and visitor spending capped at $12.8 billion, according to the most recent statistics from Travel Oregon. All of these numbers increased from 2018.

No doubt, the statewide tourism industry was going strong. Then, the coronavirus happened.

The pandemic has made traveling next to impossible, and at the least, largely unsafe. It forced closures across the industry, from local eateries to globally recognizable sites, such as Multnomah Falls. Of course, it has left many unemployed, with one-third of unemployment claims coming from those in the leisure and hospitality sectors.

Now, as we look toward reopening, it's time to recognize why and how tending to the tourism industry wounds will be critical for recovery.

At a recent virtual meeting of the West Columbia Gorge Chamber of Commerce, Lizzie Keenan, Mt. Hood and Columbia River Gorge regional specialist for Travel Oregon, shared her perspective.

"We need locals to feel comfortable moving around in the new normal before visitors will be comfortable," Keenan said. "Visitors are looking for those signals."

For consumers, this is easy enough. Most of us are eager to get back to our favorite restaurants or drive to Cannon Beach to enjoy some summer sun. But how can the countless small business owners who live and work in Oregon get involved?

Keenan provided tactical tips that Better Business Bureau Northwest + Pacific agree are excellent ways businesses can contribute to economic revitalization:

  • An important piece of moving forward in the tourism and hospitality industry is keeping Google listings up to date. Keep updating information such as open hours, new experiences, and availability for dine-in versus take-out. It's where customers are going to look.
  • Businesses can connect with local lodging partners and make sure these places know about your business to talk to their guests authentically about it. You want the lodging employees to talk about the community experience, what's open, and what your business serves or does.
  • Learn about tourism assets in your community, and make sure your staff knows, too. When you can be a reliable source for visitors as they pop in, they are more likely to feel welcome, spend more time in Oregon and spend more money.
  • Make sure your business is listed in local Chamber guides and other visitor collateral. Use your tourism megaphone, such as ensuring you're represented in newsletters for Travel Oregon and other local agencies. Take advantage of any free marketing or PR opportunities being offered due to COVID-19.
  • Recovery will be slow, but all hope is not lost. Yes, in Oregon, our COVID-19 cases have gone back up, as of this writing on June 25. We are airing on the conservative side in terms of rolling into the next phases, with the densest parts of Portland (Washington, Clackamas, and Multnomah Counties still all in Phase 1). But the silver lining is this: people want to travel.

    Travel Oregon compiled the following data to illustrate what we can expect:

  • 70% of Americans plan to take one leisure trip before the end of 2020. Millennials and Gen Z remain the generations most likely to travel.
  • 45% of Americans are "very comfortable" or "somewhat comfortable" eating at a restaurant again.
  • Daily throughput counts at the Portland International Airport are increasing, with June 7 being the first day throughput surpassed 4,000. This is still far below last year's numbers, but nonetheless, signals comfort levels improving.
  • Keeping others safe and the infection rate down continues to be the highest priority. But, as we welcome more traveling, it will be critical business owners actively participate. Remember: enhance your visibility, communicate your new experiences, and connect within your local communities to help funnel visitor spending back into Oregon.

    Danielle Kane is the Portland Marketplace Manager for Better Business Bureau Northwest + Pacific. She can be reached at 503-833-2301.

    You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.