New data released by Tourism Economics, a national travel research firm, show that visitor spending in Thurston County grew 25.7 percent between 2015 and 2019. This includes a 6.9 percent surge from 2018 to 2019, outpacing the average state growth of 4.5 percent. In 2019 alone, Thurston County welcomed 3,556,983 guests from outside the region.
Although Thurston County was set for another year of growth, the COVID-19 pandemic that swept the globe swiftly reversed this forecast starting in March 2020. Washington State tourism as a whole sharply declined. According to the Washington Tourism Alliance’s June 2 press release, Seattle Tacoma International Airport experienced a decrease of 93.6 percent in passenger volume in April alone compared to 2019. Smith Travel Research recorded a record decline of 65 percent in Thurston County’s hotel occupancy.
A significant decrease in visitors means a sharp decline in the tax revenue they generate through hospitality, recreation and retail spending. In 2019, visitors spent $459.5 million on accommodations, dining, shopping, activities and transportation in Thurston County, generating tax revenues that saved local households $626 in state and local taxes last year.
Job loss also remains a concern. Visitors to Thurston County supported 3,947 direct jobs in 2019. Statewide, job losses within the leisure and hospitality sector accounted for 42 percent of job losses since March 1, 2020.
“It’s easy to get lost in the staggering numbers of our region’s past tourism growth and this current reality. What’s important to remember is these dollars and figures have a real impact on local people,” said Shauna Steward, CEO of Experience Olympia and Beyond. “Tourism brings outside dollars into our community to support jobs, small business and our region’s quality of life. Re-investing in tourism businesses and destination marketing is a key component to local economic recovery.”
Support for our local tourism and hospitality industries is essential for Thurston County’s economic recovery. Visitor dollars support local small businesses, create jobs that provide livelihood and spending power for residents while generating tax revenue that supports our quality of life.