Can Deschutes County Label Itself a High-Value Tourism County in Oregon?

by Kale Donnelly

January 8, 2019

In 2017, visitors to Deschutes County spent over three-quarters of a billion dollars in direct travel spending – about $760 million dollars. That’s an average of more than $2 million a day! This includes spending on hotels, food and drink, entertainment, and transportation. Deschutes doesn’t top the list for counties with the most travel spending. Multnomah, Lane, and Washington counties were the three frontrunners in that category, respectively. However, it’s tough to compete with counties that have three of Oregon’s largest universities, the largest city centers, and the state’s largest airports.

Despite it not making the number one slot in terms of total travel spending, Deschutes County still sets itself apart from the vast majority of Oregon’s counties as a high value tourist destination. But, what determines value? Is it how much something is actually worth? Or rather, is it how much someone will ultimately pay for it? There isn’t a price tag on the Three Sisters, the Deschutes River, the plethora of trail networks, or overall experience Deschutes County offers. In fact, many of the amenities that draw tourists to the area are on public land and as a result, free to access (with the exception of a parking permit). However, tourists still spend large amounts of money at local businesses for food, lodging, recreation, and transportation.

Dean Runyan Associates, an economic analysis firm specializing in travel and tourism impacts, estimates the amount of travel spending for all counties across Oregon. Not only does Deschutes County bring in the fourth largest amount of travel spending, but it also offers a high “bang for buck” when it comes to how much travel spending one travel-related job can elicit.
For every one travel-related job identified by Dean Runyan, Deschutes County brings in roughly $93,000 in direct travel spending. This is an indication of high-cost amenities and recreation here in Deschutes County, such as the numerous destination resorts, downhill skiing, and golfing. In fact, Deschutes County is home to nearly all of Oregon’s destination resorts, many of which are located outside of the Bend area. The high cost of these resorts, paired with their sizable share of the county’s collection of transient room taxes (TRT), is one of Deschutes County’s unique aspects helping to drive visitor spending and tax receipts upward. These destination resorts located in unincorporated Deschutes County account for roughly 38 percent of the county’s lodging tax receipts. Tillamook County is the only other county in Oregon to exceed Deschutes in its share of lodging tax receipts collected in unincorporated areas.
Lodging taxes are only one form of tax revenue collected from travelers. Other forms of revenue include taxes on auto rentals, air transportation, fuel, and payroll taxes from tourism-related businesses. Tax rates, particularly for lodging taxes, vary dramatically across the state. That makes it difficult to make conclusions about tourism’s relative importance to the local economy based exclusively on tax revenue. Despite the challenges associated with comparing county tourism-related tax revenue, these tax receipts remain a good measure for how much visitors pay back for infrastructure and public services. Deschutes County has one of the highest tax receipts per capita in the state. That is, relative to the population of Deschutes County, visitor tax receipts provide a large share of revenue for public infrastructure, fire, and safety (as well as tourism promotion). The money that any given tourist spends in Deschutes County has a greater impact than in other, more populated counties.

Visitors spend a lot of money here in Deschutes County each year. Relative to other counties in the state, Deschutes County’s tourism amenities are high value with significant tax revenue collected from these visitors. While the county doesn’t top the list in any category for tourism impacts, it ranks among the highest in nearly every category.

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