Last summer, Tim Fry and his family took the mother of all road trips through Washington state.
Over a two-month period, the family of four logged more than 2,000 miles in a 24-foot motorhome. Starting at the northern tip of Lopez Island, they crossed the state, visiting ocean beaches, rain forests and deserts. They took in local color, from visiting public markets to booking haunted building tours and watching smokejumpers at a training base.
In Spokane, they spent a week camping at Riverside State Park, biking downtown to explore shops, restaurants and museums.
The trip helped Fry research Scenic Washington’s new tourism app. Debuting Wednesday, the free ScenicWA 365 app aims to help Washington residents and visitors plan their own road trips. The app uses Seattle, Spokane, Tacoma, Vancouver and Olympia as starting points for longer trips.
Tourism is Washington’s fourth largest industry, generating more than $1.8 billion in local and state tax revenues each year, according to the Washington Tourism Alliance. Road trips contribute to those receipts.
The open road beckons to people of all income brackets, said Fry, a Spokane native who is the sales and marketing manager for Scenic Washington in Bellingham. The company’s market research shows that road trips are popular, whether households earn less than $50,000 or more than $150,000. About 60 percent of the trips are planned by women who are traveling with children.
Scenic Washington once had a state contract to publish the state’s official visitor guide and map. When state tourism funding dried up during the recession, the company continued to publish the guide and map, relying on advertising dollars, Fry said. The brochures, maps and a Facebook page reach more than 1 million people each year, he said.
The free app also relies on advertising, he said. People who visit attractions on the app will earn points that can be redeemed for discounts at participating retailers. The app will continue to evolve as Fry adds destinations and advertisers.
Spokane residents will recognize many of the app’s local attractions, which include the Davenport Hotel, Riverfront Park and Bing Crosby’s childhood home. The app also encourages people to take side trips to visit other attractions.
“Our philosophy is that when people travel, they care as much about the journey as the destination. So we’ve focused on these curated journeys,” Fry said.
People often start their trips in a metro like Spokane, but they’ll also want to vist the Palouse or northeast Washington or Grand Coulee Dam, he said.
Road trips, as a form of travel, are benefiting from several years of low gas prices and growth in discretionary income as the national economy recovers, he said.
“When you combine those two things, places like Washington state naturally benefit,” he said. “We’ve surveyed the tourists who use our materials over the years. The No. 1 reason they visit Washington is for scenic drives and road trips.”