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U.S. Open tips local tourism spending past $1 billion mark

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Travel and tourism-related spending reached $1.09 billion in Pierce County in 2015, an annual increase of 3.9 percent, breaking the record set in 2014 according to a study commissioned by Travel Tacoma + Pierce County, the area’s official destination marketing organization.

The annual total marked the first time tourism spending broke through the $1 billion threshold.

In total, some 5,942,000 people visited Pierce County in 2015, a 7 percent increase from the previous year according to the annual Pierce County Travel Impacts report compiled by Dean Runyan Associates. That includes more than 3 million overnight visitors, an increase of 2.1 percent from 2014.

That volume of tourism dollars translated to the highest hospitality employment since 2000, with the industry supporting 11,080 local jobs, up 1.6 percent from 2014.

“It was the perfect storm for Pierce County tourism in 2015,” said Bennish Brown, President + CEO of Travel Tacoma + Pierce County. “Six years of continual growth in tourism coincided with the U.S. Open golf championship being held in the University Place area, which slingshot us into the national spotlight. The tourism community rallied, and the county reaped the rewards.”

The high point of tourism spending in 2015 was the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, where more than 230,000 people watched the tournament live and were exposed to the area’s attractions for future visits that will pay dividends in the years to come.

“Finally, Tacoma and Pierce County are showing up on the radar of a lot of people,” Brown said. “We have finally turned that corner.”

The U.S. Open last June filled every available hotel room during the span of the tournament, but summer is always a busy tourism time locally. So while there was a “golf bump” in 2015, this summer should be pretty close to that at- or near-capacity volume.

“The year is still going to be a good year,” Brown said.

Ongoing efforts to tap into off-season tourism activities, by marketing Tacoma to Portlandian weekend travelers for example, will help backfill the tourism industry that lacks the anomaly of a massive sporting event like the U.S. Open. Adding to the local attractions is the continued expansion of Tacoma Art Museum and its nationally ranked Western American art collection, LeMay: America’s Car Museum, the Museum of Glass, Mount Rainier and even the area’s waterfront bed and breakfasts, which are gaining in popularity for travelers looking for Main Street, USA vacations.

“What we are seeing is that Tacoma and Pierce County can stand on their own,” Travel Tacoma Vice President of Marketing Jaime Vogt said.

By the numbers

Within Pierce County, 45.4 percent of travel spending took place in Tacoma, which netted $494.4 million from tourism. The report detailed economic impact for nine separate break-out areas:

  • DuPont: $7.2 million in travel spending (0.7 percent of total Pierce County travel spending)
  • Fife: $76.1 million (7.0 percent of total)
  • Gig Harbor: $46.0 million (4.2 percent of total)
  • Lakewood: $93.2 million (8.5 percent of total)
  • Mount Rainier: $118.0 million (10.8 percent of total)
  • Puyallup: $104.3 million (9.6 percent of total)
  • Sumner: $32.4 million (3.0 percent of total)
  • Tacoma: $494.4 million (45.4 percent of total)
  • All other: $118.6 million (10.9 percent of total)

County total: $1,090.2 million