Thursday, June 30, 2022
June 30, 2022

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In Our View: Keep Vancouver clean to keep tourists coming

The Columbian
Published:

Given our desire to return to “normal,” the numbers are encouraging. Industries and community leaders around Clark County report that tourism to the area is increasing, following a lengthy COVID-related downturn.

“We’re on our second year of growing, and we had a pretty good 2021 as well,” Mike McLeod, general manager of the Hilton Vancouver Washington, told The Columbian. “We’re still improving so far and expect to for the rest of the year.”

That growth echoes what is taking place across the nation. Recent headlines trumpet record or near-record tourism numbers in New Hampshire, Montana, Florida and elsewhere. And the World Travel and Tourism Council reports that North American tourism is projected to grow at an annual rate of 4 percent over the next decade.

COVID-19 hasn’t left us; we have simply chosen to live with it and return to our lives.

Economically, that is good news. According to the federal government, travel and tourism accounted for nearly 3 percent of the economy in 2019 before declining by nearly half during pandemic-ravaged 2020. The industry generates more revenue than the agriculture or utilities sectors.

That reflects a decadeslong trend. Service industries have grown exponentially as American businesses and consumers have focused on creating experiences rather than manufacturing tangible goods. Prior to the pandemic, the selling of those experiences supported 9.5 million jobs in the United States.

With that development, tourism has become an essential piece of the economy for many cities and states. The cultural change can be seen in Vancouver, where a waterfront that spent decades as an industrial site is now a destination for visitors from near and far. A few decades ago, downtown was dominated by a brewery; now it is a vibrant location marked by local shops and access to the Columbia River shoreline.

In an April article, a travel reporter for The Seattle Times trumpeted The Waterfront Vancouver development: “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. Take it all in, then head home happy you finally took the time to stop in Vancouver.”

That highlights the need for Vancouver to look its best, providing visitors with an enjoyable time and leading to positive word-of-mouth reviews. In addition to a tourism downturn caused by COVID restrictions, cities along the West Coast are dealing with blight and rampant homelessness that paints an unappealing portrait for potential visitors.

Portland officials report that tourism spending rebounded somewhat in 2021, but was roughly two-thirds of 2019 numbers. Widespread tent villages, combined with unrest during 2020 protests that became a fixture on cable news, served to damage the city’s national reputation.

In Seattle, despite negative coverage similar to Portland’s, the tourism industry has enjoyed a strong rebound. AAA projects that the city will be the second-most popular tourism destination in the United States over the coming Memorial Day weekend, trailing only Orlando. Seattle benefits from the cruise industry, which has enjoyed a resurgence as the pandemic abates.

With attractive cities and easy access to outdoor splendor, the Northwest is an inviting destination for travelers. Keeping the cities clean and desirable is essential for drawing those visitors as we seek a return to “normal.”

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