Vancouver’s lodging tax revenue has more than doubled since the Great Recession, an indication of a healthy tourism market expected to see an enormous boon in the form of waterfront development.
But with the opening of The Waterfront Vancouver and a projected increase in hotel capacity, locals may start to see a shift in the type of traveler that visits Clark County — less business, more pleasure — and an evolution in the identity of Vancouver as a destination.
Over the last decade, annual collections from the city’s 4 percent lodging tax rose from $1.36 million to $2.42 million, a 78-percent increase. Since 2010’s post-recession low of $1.17 million, tourism dollars have more than doubled.
Part of that steady climb can be attributed to recovery from a limping economy, said Kim Bennett, president and CEO of Visit Vancouver USA.
“It took a few years to bounce back. Some of that is attributed to just an increase in demand,” Bennett said.
City of Vancouver Lodging Tax Collections
4 percent lodging tax
Lodging revenue has rebounded beyond pre-recession levels due to a rising number of visitors and a high enough demand to drive up room rates. Hotels are adjusting their prices to account for a strengthening market, so the city is collecting taxes on higher overnight rates.
“We can put a pretty good finger on the pulse,” Bennett said. “We see the breakouts from the (state) Department of Revenue.”
By 2022, however, the city’s tourism numbers may put previous years to shame. Based on projects already underway, Bennett forecasts that Clark County will have several hundred more hotel rooms to host visitors in Southwest Washington.
Driving the current boom in tourism dollars is The Waterfront Vancouver, a $1.5 billion project to overhaul 21 blocks of the city’s pristine riverside property.
Already, crews have broken ground on the waterfront’s Hotel Indigo, a boutique, nine-story, 138-room hotel that will sit adjacent to the Kirkland Tower condominium development. Dean Kirkland, of Kirkland Development LLC, said that marketing for the hotel property will be aimed at both business and leisure travelers, with 10,000 square feet of conference and meeting space topped off by a rooftop bar and social pool.
“We’re getting a little balance there,” Kirkland said.
He touted the development’s location on the Columbia River waterfront. “The way people are going to start looking at Vancouver,” he added, is changing.
“There’s only so much commercial waterfront property. This is it. That sets us apart from everybody else. Human beings like to be on the water,” Kirkland said.
Construction on the AC by Marriott, also on the waterfront, is slated to begin next year. To the east, the Patel Vancouver Marriott and the Best Western Premiere have both received permits from the city of Vancouver. Following the opening of ilani casino’s event center this year, Cowlitz tribal leaders conducted a feasibility study for a 400-room hotel, with construction beginning as early as this fall.
“We’ve got proposed hotels in the pipeline that would increase, in the next four years, our supply by about 30 percent,” Bennett said. “The supply will increase, and you hope that along with that, you’re creating enough demand.”
While the growth in short-term lodging is still part of a long-term plan — Hotel Indigo, for instance, won’t open for another two years — the Vancouver Waterfront Park will hold a grand opening on Sept. 29, the city announced in July.
According to Linda Glover, city councilor and chair of the Vancouver Lodging Tax Advisory Committee, it’s a game-changer for residents and visitors alike.
“We’re really excited. The number of people they’re forecasting for the waterfront is over 200,000 a year,” Glover said.
The waterfront project is a momentous undertaking in its own right, but it also marks a fundamental shift in Vancouver’s identity. The city is working to make itself more visitor-friendly, updating wayfinding signage for pedestrians and drivers and identifying easy pathways in and out, Glover added.
“We’ve never been a tourism community before,” she said. “We’re doing everything we can to get our living room ready for the visitors that are coming.”
A new kind of traveler
For all the expansion of tourism in Clark County, one market remains relatively modest. Online booking sites, like Airbnb, still make up just a tiny fraction of lodging revenue.
It’s a “marginal” figure compared to traditional hotels and motels, Bennett said, likely due to the prevalence of business and event travellers in Vancouver — far from the shoestring budget, train-hopping couch surfers that made up Airbnb’s customer base when it launched in 2008.
“You generally see the demand for Airbnb and some of those alternatives in a higher leisure destination,” Bennett said.
The selection of Airbnbs in Vancouver is relatively thin, with around 75 properties available for rent around the area at a median price of $56 per night. Dozens advertise their proximity to the Portland International Airport. In comparison, Portland’s Airbnb offerings total more than 200 properties.
But with the addition of more leisure-focused attractions on the north side of the Columbia River, Bennett sees an opportunity.
“We think that there’s potential for that to grow,” Bennett said. “You have something to show in your destination that is new and different and provides people a chance to operate within your community in a new and different way.”