Travel Oregon, the state’s tourism office, is providing $2.3 million in grants to fund projects across the state to help spur tourism as Oregon tries to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Local governments, port districts, federally recognized tribes, nonprofits and Oregon-based tour operators and guides can apply for up to $100,000 in funding to support projects focused on improving infrastructure to safely welcome back tourists as the pandemic continues.
The agency will fund projects that support outdoor recreation, help guides and tour companies operate, enable paid events and attractions to safely move forward, and improve business districts, including funding projects that create new outdoor spaces for visitors.
The application process will remain open until March 31. Projects must be completed by the end of November.
“The grants that we’re providing today are going to aid communities and aid businesses in being well-positioned to be able to offer these great Oregon experiences in a very safe way,” Travel Oregon CEO Todd Davidson said. “That’s what we’re focused on, making sure folks know they can travel in Oregon safely.”
The new initiative comes after Travel Oregon last month awarded $913,000 to fund 34 projects across the state focused on improving visitor experiences during the pandemic. Among the recipients of that grant money was Portland’s economic development agency, which received $50,000 to improve the city’s green loop.
Oregon’s tourism industry has been decimated during the pandemic.
More than 1 million people visit Oregon in a typical year, fueling a $12.8 billion tourism industry, according to Travel Oregon.
However, visitor spending throughout the state dropped by nearly 60% last year as tourism dried up amid the pandemic, according to the agency. It could take years for the industry to rebound, especially if international travel remains limited and large events and conventions are slow to return. Oregon’s leisure and hospitality industry has shed 37% of its jobs during the pandemic, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“We anticipate that we will probably not see recovery back to 2019 levels until at least 2024 and it could be 2025,” Davidson said.
While certain parts of the state saw tourism rebound last summer as leisure travel picked up, hotel occupancy in Portland plummeted from nearly 75% in 2019 to 34% in 2020, worse than anywhere else in the state.
The decline in tourism across the state could have severe financial implications for cities and counties.
In Portland, five percent of the overall transient lodging taxes assessed on hotel and vacation rentals goes to the city’s general fund. The city received $30.8 million in general fund money from hotel room taxes in the 2019-20 fiscal year, but expects those revenues to be down 75% this fiscal year.
“The travel and tourism industry is a primary driver of Oregon’s economy,” Davidson said.