Higher gas prices didn’t seem to affect tourism in the Inland Northwest this summer.
Demand for rooms was up 6 percent in Kootenai County, and 2 percent in Spokane County, according to year-to-date figures through August from Smith Travel Research. In real numbers, that translates into 19,000 additional room nights booked in Kootenai County, and 20,300 additional room nights booked in Spokane County.
The local tourism market is sometimes described as a “rubber tire market” because many visitors get here by driving. With gas prices above $3 per gallon during the peak summer driving times, officials initially wondered if the higher cost would cause some families to cancel or scale back travel plans.
“What we’re finding, and unfortunately, I think the gas companies know this, is that people are still going to travel,” said Harry Sladich, president of the Spokane Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau. “People feel it’s their right to travel and take a vacation.”
They might cut back on other spending during their trip, but rising gas prices won’t curtail a trip, he said.
In addition to higher demand, hotel room rates rose during the first eight months of the year. Occupancy rates were also up.
In Kootenai County, the average cost of a hotel room was $103 through August, compared to an average of $98 for the same period last year.
In Spokane County, the average room rate rose to $75, compared to $70 last year.
Hotel occupancy rates were 62 percent in Kootenai County, and 63 percent in Spokane County.