Clark County’s tourism has officially recovered from the pandemic, according to a new report.
The report from travel research firm Tourism Economics showed visitor spending and volume in the county surpassed pre-pandemic levels in 2022.
The study, which was conducted for the State of Washington Tourism, found the county’s tourism numbers exceeded the 2019 data for the first time since the pandemic.
The year before the pandemic “was kind of used as this benchmark to get back to for so long,” said Erica Lindemann, director of marketing with Visit Vancouver WA. And it sometimes felt unattainable, she added.
The improved numbers are positive for local businesses and attractions, Lindemann said.
“It allows us to stop looking in the past, and we can really focus on the future,” she said.
According to the report, visitors to Clark County spent $674.1 million locally last year, up 30.5 percent from 2021 and up 21.8 percent from 2019.
More people have also been coming to the area, with 5.16 million visits to the county in 2022. That’s 24.8 percent higher than 2021 and 11.9 percent higher than 2019.
For Hilton Vancouver Washington, a surge in its occupancy began around 2021 and continued into last year when its convention business began to improve again. Its catering business, however, didn’t pick up until 2022 due to pandemic-related restrictions.
“While each month may vary, we do anticipate our year-end occupancy to be similar to last year,” added the hotel’s general manager Mike McLeod.
Local data from Smith Travel Research shows the area’s hotel occupancy over the past three months actually dipped below where it was in 2022. It’s worth noting, however, two hotels opened on Vancouver’s waterfront since that time.
Even though visitor spending went up locally, inflation does play into it, Lindemann said.
“While people are spending more when they go on vacation because they have to, it’s hard to say restaurants are benefitting as much as they were before,” she added. Those businesses are paying more for food and labor than they were before the pandemic.
Though, she pointed out, visitor volume also increased.
Lindemann said some of the big draws to the region were The Waterfront Vancouver and ilani. Now, the Visit Vancouver WA team is working to get those visitors to other attractions, such as Fort Vancouver National Historic Site or downtown Vancouver.
During a recent focus group, Lindemann’s team heard many people say Vancouver retained a small-town feel, even though it was growing. They called it friendly and welcoming to everyone.
“I really love that, and I think that we’re, as a city, able to hold on to those kinds of small-town adjectives while continuing to grow and offer bigger city amenities,” Lindemann said.