As almost every industry continues to be affected by issues caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the tourism & hospitality industry in Washington state is no different. In fact, there have been more jobs lost in tourism & hospitality than any other industry, said David Blandford, executive director of the Washington Tourism Alliance (WTA).
“The U.S. Travel Association says (the pandemic) has been 10 times more impactful (on the travel industry) than 9/11,” Blandford said.
Blandford said that according to a statewide report specific to the travel industry that the WTA completed for 2020, visitor volume in the state was down 27.3%; spending was down 40%; state and local taxes were down 32%; and employment was down 27%.
“What is interesting about that (the employment numbers) is that the travel sector in Washington led job growth, but through the pandemic has suffered the greatest losses,” Blandford said. “It has caused a significant hit to the overall state economy. Restoring those jobs is key to helping the industry.”
Fairly recently, recovery funding of about $12 million was created by the Washington State Legislature as a proviso agreement with the Washington State Department of Commerce and WTA in the biennial budget for 2021-23. Blandford said the money is certainly going to be put to good use for this “hard-hit tourism industry.”
“We need to do a couple of things – as the state tourism office, we need to stimulate consumer travel demand, destination marketing and work on driving business to the tourism industry in Washington state,” he said.
Blandford said the recovery funding will be used for continued development and recovery programs, something that is part of the new “COVID normal,” deploying the ongoing destination development program that has specific programs, technical assistance, grants, resources, research and other elements for the industry. He said they will also hold statewide town hall meetings and assessment meetings in order to look at what tools and resources will be needed by communities in the state to help build and sustain during this recovery.
“Within all of that this money will be used for destination marketing and advertising, as well as travel publicity, for website development, social media development and integrated marketing,” Blandford said. “There will be marketing campaigns, there will be destination brand development. There will be marketing to get visitors here and also programs very specifically to help industry businesses and communities.”
“I think the Delta Variant poses a new challenge, of course, for so many,” Blandford said. “We are watching that very closely from a public health standpoint and a travel standpoint – we watch travelers daily to see how they’re responding. As we go forward with marketing programs, we are hopeful that we will continue on, that we will not push pause on these programs.”
Tourism & hospitality in Southwest Washington
If there was one word to describe the current state of the tourism & hospitality industry in Southwest Washington, Chairman and CEO of Vesta Hospitality Rick Takach said that word would be “uncertainty.”
“We were sailing along, from a revenue standpoint, and then all of a sudden the Delta Variant resurged, then the mask mandate was put into place,” Takach said. “The state of our industry, even locally, is uncertainty. We don’t know what to expect. A lot of people don’t like the mask mandates – or they don’t like any mandates – so they don’t travel.”
Takach said there are certain market segments that have done pretty well this year from a revenue standpoint. Extended-stay hotels have done well, and he said, “if you have the right hotel in the right location, especially from a leisure standpoint, your life from a revenue standpoint has been pretty good this year.”
However, Takach said there are some market segments that have not bounced back yet to the extent that they would like, such as business travelers and group travelers.
The biggest issue that Takach said Vesta has faced this year hasn’t been revenue but has been the labor and supply chain.
“We couldn’t get labor,” Takach said. “People either wouldn’t show up or they would last a day. Then we went almost two weeks one time without any food deliveries. The supply chain issues and labor issues have been brutal. We have guests paying premium dollars and we don’t have the team or supplies to meet their expectations.”
Vesta Hospitality, in partnership with the Port of Vancouver USA, is currently in the process of constructing the new AC Hotel by Marriott at Terminal 1 down at the Vancouver Waterfront. Despite these challenges with labor and supply chains, Takach said they are still on schedule to open the hotel in June 2022.
“We’ve had some hiccups – getting supplies, it’s cost a little more money for things like the roof and air conditioning,” Takach said. “So far we’ve been able to modify our critical path; we’ve been able to work around the COVID issues and the supply chain issues. I’m confident, today, that we’re going to hit our (June) timeframe. The city still has to do all of their inspections, and we have to get all of the supplies. Anything could happen.”