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Events help fend off tourism drop

Ironman and Hoopfest don’t just draw hundreds of thousands of athletes and spectators to the Inland Northwest each June.

The back-to-back weekend events lure visitors’ dollars, filling hotels and restaurants – and helping buffer the area from a national tourism downturn, observers say.

Hoopfest organizers cite a 2006 study that found the basketball tournament contributed about $33 million to the local economy. The Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce estimates that Ford Ironman Coeur d’Alene nets roughly $7 million in direct spending.

Ironman is Sunday, and Hoopfest takes place the following weekend.

“At the end of the day, that economic impact translates into filled potholes,” said Eric Sawyer, executive director of the Spokane Regional Sports Commission.

Nationally, tourism spending adjusted for price changes decreased 3.7 percent in the first quarter of 2008, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. But in Spokane, “We just haven’t really seen the slip here. In fact, we’ve seen it increase,” said Pam Scott, spokeswoman for the Spokane Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“Hoopfest has the highest registration they’ve ever had in their history,” she said. “We only expect our numbers to continue to go up. … A lot of people who visit Spokane are within the ‘drive market,’ so their plans have not changed for this summer.”

And Ironman athletes, who may come from farther away, are lucrative visitors. They might spend $250 a day – more than twice as much as someone in Spokane for a state basketball championship, Sawyer said.

“Not only are they bringing a lot of folks, spending a lot of time, they’re spending a lot of money because they have the disposable income,” Sawyer said.

The events fill hotels in both cities, spilling into surrounding towns. Ironman room rentals have ballooned from about 2,800 five years ago to nearly 10,000, Sawyer said. The more than 3,000 downtown Spokane rooms are full next weekend, Scott said.

The 104-room Pheasant Hill Inn & Suites Magnuson Grand Hotel in Spokane Valley is full for both weekends, said Christine Cochran, director of operations. Visitors will book rooms for next year’s event before leaving town. “We in the Northwest should thank our maker for this,” Cochran said.