Tuesday, January 31, 2023
Jan. 31, 2023

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Clark County tourism is on the increase

Numbers haven’t returned to 2019 levels, however

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The American Empress sits docked behind the Red Lion at the Quay in downtown Vancouver.
The American Empress sits docked behind the Red Lion at the Quay in downtown Vancouver. (The Columbian files) Photo Gallery

As the pandemic appears to be fading, tourism has picked up substantially in Clark County, even more so than in the rest of the state.

Numbers still haven’t reached 2019 levels, said Erica Lindemann, director of marketing for Visit Vancouver, as she shared a recent report by the state showing a 20.6 percent in visits this year and a 37.8 percent increase in visitor spending from 2020 to 2021 in Clark County.

Mike McLeod, general manager of the Hilton Vancouver Washington, finds that news encouraging and says he’s noticed a healthy increase this year.

“We’re on our second year of growing, and we had a pretty good 2021 as well,” he said. “We’re still improving so far and expect to for the rest of the year.”

McLeod said the hotel is seeing more group meetings and catering events as well as nonprofits scheduling conventions there.

“We’ve seen an increase compared to last year, a pretty big increase, when before we were heavily restricted,” he said, referring to masking and social distancing rules imposed on businesses.

The Hilton also benefits from an increase in bookings on the American Empress riverboat, said Michael Hicks, director of marketing for American Queen Voyages.

“The Hilton is included as our pre-cruise hotel, and people stay there before the cruise,” he said. “It’s included in our pricing, and that’s good for Vancouver because they get that bed tax, as well.”

The increase in tourism will also help the east end of the county, he said, as the American Empress will start docking for the day in Camas-Washougal at Parker’s Landing Marina starting on June 8.

The ship will dock at the landing from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. every Wednesday and Saturday through November. A motor coach will take ship passengers to both towns for brief stops, according to Derek Jaeger, business development director for the Port of Camas-Washougal, in a recent interview with the Camas-Washougal Post-Record.

“I think it’s a great opportunity to partner with a company like this that will have a good economic impact for our region,” Jaeger said. “Plus it will be kind of cool to see a big paddlewheel boat outside the marina.”

The ship’s docking will no doubt be a boost for tourism at the east end of the county, he said.

“They’ll be rotating 20-minute cycles at different stops throughout the community, so it’s a great opportunity for the passengers to see the local community and support it and spend some money,” Jaeger said.

American Empress passengers typically spend from $135 to $175 per stop, Jaeger said, and could spend as much as $1 million per year in those two communities.

“It’s not significant in terms of lease revenue for the port, but we do value the impact for our community and the businesses within our community,” he said.

Although having fewer COVID-19 restrictions certainly plays a role in increasing visits, publicity about The Waterfront Vancouver development has likely brought more visitors to the city. An April 22 Seattle Times story by travel writer Carol Pucci goes into all aspects of the riverfront.

“On the waterfront, enjoy views of the Interstate 5 and I-205 bridges to Oregon and Mount Hood, with lots of scenic stops along the way as well as a connection to the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site,” Pucci wrote. “Take it all in, then head home happy you finally took the time to stop in Vancouver.”

Fodor’s Travel also took note, including the Vancouver waterfront in its list of the 15 best river walks in the U.S. in its August 2021 issue. Fodor’s described it as “a two-mile paved path with fantastic views and a wealth of cultural and recreational experiences for visitors and locals to explore.”

“Take the Waterfront Renaissance Trail … and head toward Grant Street Pier, the focal point of Vancouver Waterfront Park, designed to evoke the billow of a passing sailboat. … Check into the trendy Hotel Indigo, Vancouver’s first boutique hotel with fantastic access to the river walk.”

The hotel isn’t open yet but is already taking reservations, with plans to welcome its first guests July 19.

Tourism across the country should continue to increase this year, according the World Travel and Tourism Council in a February article in Business Traveler magazine.

For example, an analysis by the World Travel and Tourism Council and Oxford Economics predicts that domestic travel and tourism in the U.S. are “projected to outperform pre-pandemic levels by 11.3 percent, and reach over $1.1 trillion.”

International tourism is projected to not grow as fast, but could reach $155 billion in 2022, a growth of $113 billion over last year but still 14 percent below 2019 levels.

Tourism supports nearly 7,000 jobs in Clark County, an increase of more than 500 jobs over 2020 levels, according to Visit Vancouver. Total state and local tax revenue increased by 27.1 percent to $82.3 million in the past two years, with an average tax savings of $329 per household.

The state as a whole has not recovered as quickly, states Visit Vancouver, with reported visitation at 87 percent of 2019 levels and visitor spending at 81 percent of 2019 levels.