Attractions like the U.S. Figure Skating Championships and Walking with Dinosaurs lifted tourism spending at hotels, restaurants and retailers in Spokane County to a record $859 million last year.
The 9 percent increase over 2006 was double the average rate of growth going back to 1991, according to a recently released study done for the Washington Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development by Dean Runyon Associates.
Tourism spending in the state rose 7 percent over 2006 to $14.8 billion, the study said. The travel industry employed almost 150,000 people and generated $973 million in state and local taxes.
The spending in Spokane County put it fourth in the state, just below the $895 million rung up in Snohomish County. King County towered over the rest of the state with $5.3 billion.
In Spokane, 10,100 people worked in travel-related jobs, representing 3.6 percent of all employment and 2.4 percent of earnings.
The study noted that travel employs a smaller percentage of workers in urban counties than in rural counties, where the percentage of total employment was as high as 23 percent in Skamania County. Travel-related industries in counties adjacent to Spokane represented 3.2 percent of employment in Lincoln County; 7.3 percent in Pend Oreille County; 5.7 percent in Stevens County; and 3.7 percent in Whitman County.
Travel generated $60.3 million in tax revenue in Spokane County, mostly from retail sales tax and hotel and motel taxes. Of that, $4.7 million was redistributed to the county, Spokane, Spokane Valley, Liberty Lake and Airway Heights.
A Tourism Promotion Area levy – levied on hotels to attract large events – produced an additional$1.6 million.
“This data confirms that the funding we receive from our city and county governments is paying huge dividends,” said Harry Sladich, president of the Spokane Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau.
So far in 2008, he added, room occupancy has slipped only slightly compared to 2007, with higher room rates more than offsetting the drop.
Sladich said he will use upcoming “Phantom of the Opera” performances to gauge how people are feeling about traveling for special events. “The Lion King,” which toured Spokane in 2005, filled 14,000 rooms, he said.