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Roaring revenue

The Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture was busy with people taking in the
The Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture was busy with people taking in the "A T. rex Named Sue" exhibit on Sept. 2, its final day. (Holly Pickett / The Spokesman-Review)

Big-ticket events – such as the U.S. Figure Skating Championships and the “Walking with Dinosaurs” show – have helped boost demand for hotel rooms in Spokane County by 9 percent this year.

Nearly 1.1 million room nights were booked in the county’s hotels through August, according to Smith Travel Research, a Tennessee company that tracks lodging data. Visitors paid almost $90 million for those rooms – a revenue jump of 19.5 percent from the same period last year.

The average price for a room has risen to $82, compared with $75 last year.

“What’s exciting for me as a former hotelier is that hotels are finally getting to drive rates,” or raise prices, said Harry Sladich, president of the Spokane Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“Hotels are starting to make money again,” he said.

Locally and nationally, room rates slumped following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks as hoteliers offered deeply discounted room prices to encourage skittish travelers to book trips. For many, Sladich said, “it’s been a long, slow climb out of the cellar.”

In terms of growth in room demand, the Spokane market is out-performing competing markets in Portland, Seattle, Boise and Salt Lake City this year, according to the Smith Travel numbers. Demand for hotel rooms in Portland, Seattle and Salt Lake City grew by about 4 percent in each market through August, the numbers indicate. In the Boise market, demand grew by less than 2 percent.

Sladich credited the strong local growth to aggressive marketing and special events. About 15,000 room nights were booked during the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in January. Two dinosaur shows also drew in visitors.

Hotels offered packages for the “A T. rex named Sue” exhibit, which drew big crowds to the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, while the “Walking with Dinosaurs” show featuring life-sized replicas sold out six performances at Spokane Arena.

In addition, the visitors bureau also launched one of its most extensive TV advertising campaigns in recent years, featuring commercials touting Spokane’s family-friendly activities, shopping opportunities and golf courses. The spots reached audiences in British Columbia, Alberta, Montana, Idaho and Seattle.

The rising value of the Canadian dollar, currently worth 99 U.S. cents, is probably a factor in the strong showing as well, Sladich said. However, it’s difficult to track Canadian tourists, because they so seamlessly blend into Spokane, he said.

Corresponding Smith Travel statistics aren’t available for Kootenai County, but hoteliers there also appear to be having a strong year, said Jonathan Coe, the Coeur d’Alene Area Chamber of Commerce’s president and general manager.

In July and August, collections from a state tax on hotel-motel receipts rose 16.9 percent and 16.2 percent respectively. Coe credited the growth to the “ongoing momentum” of North Idaho as a visitor destination, as well as $6 million in improvements to Silverwood Theme Park, including an expansion of its water park.

Luxury golf developments, such as The Club at Black Rock and Gozzer Ranch, are also playing a role in bringing more tourists to Kootenai County, he said.

“They’re reaching out to potential buyers all over the country, and that’s created the awareness of Coeur d’Alene as a place to come,” Coe said.