Traveling toward better days ahead
People from all backgrounds and all walks of life connect through the spirit of travel.
Our communities benefit from the spirit of travel, which permeates through small businesses, main streets, live theater, wineries, restaurants, shopping centers, public lands, and hotels, and all those who welcome visitors alike with a smile and hospitality.
The Washington County Visitors Association (WCVA) is a nonprofit destination marketing organization that serves the region's tourism industry by actively promoting Oregon's Washington County as a desired tourism destination to business, leisure and international travelers, sports and event planners, meeting planners, and group tour operators. The WCVA is funded by 2.33% of transient lodging tax (TLT) generated and collected by hotels in Washington County. The WCVA markets the destination as "Tualatin Valley."
Before the coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc on the tourism and hospitality industry, Washington County was humming along. In 2019, the county hosted 3.2 million overnight visitors. These visitors spent more than $750 million, a 4% increase over 2018. In January 2020, the local tourism industry supported 8,760 jobs in the county.
Before the pandemic, 2020 had been shaping up to be a strong year. But as COVID-19 spread around the world and stay-at-home orders were issued in March, the hospitality and entertainment industry immediately felt the impact.
As no surprise, hotel occupancy fell to historic lows of single-digit occupancy, resulting in revenue declines over the last six months of more than 25% and significant job losses. In Washington County, 56 hotels continue to operate through the crisis, although job losses in this sector have fallen dramatically.
In a recent report, the Oregon Business Plan Economic Forum presented their findings and identified sectors of the economy that will struggle until the virus is gone. It concluded that the leisure and hospitality industries, in particular, may not have a clear path forward.
"The challenge during this phase is optimizing economic outcomes under sub-optimal conditions — taking what the virus will give us," it states. "The virus is calling the shots. Control the pandemic, and the economy will grow. Lose control of the pandemic, and the economy will contract."
Visitors to Washington County come from all over the world for business and pleasure. Our multi-cultural communities, agricultural bounty, global corporations, and abundance of great outdoors make Tualatin Valley an attractive place to visit, but the travel and tourism industry needs a healthy environment to have an opportunity to recover fully. In the meantime, the travel industry is taking great steps to assure visitors of new cleaning standards, check-in processes, and putting new health security measures in place.
With uncertainty over travel, no one knows how quickly business and leisure travel will recover. As we learn to live with COVID-19 and Washington County remains in Phase 1, we are seeing small incremental growth in overnight visitation at 3% week over week, reaching 45% occupancy in July. While occupancy is slowly growing, the daily rate for a hotel room in the county fell to less than $100 on average.
There's no doubt this has been an incredibly challenging time for the tourism industry. We see this as an opportunity to remind our visitors and residents of the incredible spirit and resiliency of the travel industry and our workforce. It's only a matter of time before we all get moving again, and Tualatin Valley will be more ready than ever to welcome travelers with open arms.
Carolyn McCormick is the president and CEO of the Washington County Visitors Association.
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