Fires, budget fight cut into region's tourism

A strong start to the summer tourist season gave way to some lean times as fires and federal budget issues shuttered major attractions in the region.

All in all, however, 2013 will be remembered as part of an extended period of rising tourism traffic in Southern Oregon.

"Despite some extraordinary circumstances, we finished very strong in August and September," said Carolyn Hill, chief executive officer for the Southern Oregon Visitors Association.

Figures from Smith Travel Reports of Tennessee show 16 straight months of revenue growth for Southern Oregon lodges and innkeepers. Room revenue for the seven-county region rose 8.5 percent in September to $14.4 million, year-over-year, and the first nine months of the year saw a 9.2-percent gain to $109.34 million.

"What we've heard consistently across the region is that everyone's numbers were tracking up quite nicely early in the summer," Hill said. "Crater Lake National Park had one of its best Junes ever. Outfitters were up as much as 20 percent from the previous year. With the early-summer bookings, business was looking super strong, and we felt good (as marketers) about driving the demand."

Forest fires that ignited in late July took an undeniable toll, but it could have been worse, she said.

"Firefighters worked hard in the woods to get the river back open so that it was only closed for a relatively short period of time," Hill said.

More recently, the government shutdown put an early end to the season for Crater Lake Lodge and other tourist magnets.

"So business heading into the fall wasn't as strong for a lot of people as it could've been," she said.

Coupled with Portland and Central Oregon convention traffic, it has been a good overall year for the state, with room revenue well beyond a billion dollars for the first nine months of the year, including $136.7 million last month.

During September, Southern Oregon saw occupancy rise 4.8 percent, room rates increase 3.5 percent and room demand grow 4.8 percent.

The region's room supply has remained static.

"We haven't seen a lot of new hotels built in the last four or five years," Hill said. "It's common in this industry for there to be a period of aggressive building, and then it's our job to drive demand and fill those rooms. When we fill them, we get more gas in the engine to build more hotels."

Follow Greg Stiles on Twitter @GregMTBusiness, and read his blog at Edge.

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