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Travel Oregon CEO Todd Davidson says tourism is booming in the state, and especially in Southern Oregon.

Tourism up — and up even more locally

The numbers spill off the page like coins spewing out of a slot machine that just locked on a row of 7s.

Oregon’s tourism industry keeps piling up visitor counts, jobs and dollars.

For the eighth straight year, the statewide tourism numbers expanded, growing to $11.8 billion in 2017 from $11.3 billion in 2016, according to a Dean Runyan Associates report released this month. Tourism-related employment grew 2.2 percent to 112,000 jobs, up 2,700 jobs.

Last year’s 4.7 percent growth rate topped the industry’s annual average of 4.4 percent growth over the past decade. Southern Oregon went that one better.

In the five-county Southern Oregon region, travel related spending was nearly $1.1 billion, up 5.7 percent from 2016, supporting 12,100 jobs.

“The momentum is fantastic, we’re up 5.7 percent in Southern Oregon, we’re outpacing the state in visitor spending,” Travel Southern Oregon Executive Director Brad Niva said. “People are discovering what we have, I think we’re learning our brand identity. Who we are, what we are and what we have to offer.”

Drilling down deeper produces an even bigger increase for Jackson County.

Despite wildfire smoke and other impediments, county tourist dollars rose 6.4 percent to $582.3 million from $547.5 million, producing 3.5 percent job growth. The biggest financial gains were in accommodations and food service and air transportation.

Components of local life that residents consider commonplace — ranging from arts and culture to Crater Lake, the Rogue River and the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument — are immense draws.

“They’re right here in our backyard and it’s really good product,” Niva said. “Of course there is the wine industry, it’s a very unique experience.”

Travel Oregon CEO Todd Davidson said outdoor recreation is a growing draw.

“Ask what brings someone to Oregon, and what you hear about is the unspoiled natural beauty, the chance to get out to recreate and taste wine,” Davidson said.

To capitalize on that notion the state launched an outdoor initiative to create an overarching strategy, Davidson said, pulling together marketers, manufacturers — think KEEN and Columbia — outfitters and guides.

“It transcends the travel and tourism industry,” Davidson said. “How do we brand this place as an outdoor mecca?”

The Legislature has gone so far as to create an office of outdoor recreation within the State Parks Department.

“Domestic travel has matured, so demand might be softer,” Davidson said. “We do anticipate to see growth in international (airport) arrivals.”

Aeromexico now flies non-stop between Portland and Mexico City, opening up travel between Oregon and Latin America destinations.

“It becomes one-service to Sao Paulo or Rio,” Davidson said. “For some of the markets, such as Brazil that have expressed interest in coming here in the past, it’s been hard to get here. Now it becomes a more available opportunity.

“Some may call it a strong year for Southern Oregon; I’d say they’re punching above their weight,” Davidson said.

Davidson noted that while a significant portion of tourism jobs are lower-wage, seasonal positions, studies indicate employees who got their start in the tourism and travel industry go on to higher earning positions than people who started in other industries.

“Those soft skills are transferable,” he said. “They’re not really so soft because they’re critical to advancement in any industry.”

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or gstiles@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness or www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.

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