Visitor Spending in Northwest Oregon

by Erik Knoder

October 2, 2017

Visitor spending rose to $1.47 billion in Northwest Oregon in 2016. This was an increase of 1.6 percent from 2015. Visitor spending has been increasing since 2011, and the growth in 2015 was larger than average. The gain in visitor spending has been welcome news for the area’s leisure and hospitality industry.
Leisure and hospitality is the largest industry sector in Northwest Oregon. It provided about 15,500 payroll jobs in 2016. This was about 14 percent of all jobs (excluding self-employment) in Benton, Clatsop, Columbia, Lincoln and Tillamook counties combined. The two largest parts of the sector are the accommodation industry (e.g., motels and campgrounds), and the food services and drinking places industry (e.g., restaurants and bars). The industry’s health depends in large part on spending by visitors.

Visitors also spend money in other industries such as retail trade, transportation and even health services when vacation accidents happen. But because visitors account for a smaller portion of spending in these industries, the leisure and hospitality sector is considered the bellwether for tourism.

Visitor spending peaked in 2006 at $1.28 billion, and then fell 3 percent the next year. It was up and down during the recession and recovery. It reached $1.3 billion in 2013 and has climbed since then.

Fuel prices are one of the factors that influence whether visitors come to the area. Gas prices averaged about $3.04 per gallon along the west coast in 2015. They fell to an average of $2.65 per gallon in 2016. Prices are often lower in the winter, but rise during the prime tourist season. The average price in 2017 through September was $2.91 per gallon. Although this increased costs for most visitors, job and wage growth was strong in 2017 and probably gave many people confidence to take a vacation.
With visitor spending increasing and fuel costs moderate, we would expect to see employment in the leisure and hospitality industry recovering, and that’s what is happening. The five counties in northwest Oregon combined to add 474 (+3.1%) leisure and hospitality payroll jobs in 2016. Benton County added 226 jobs in leisure and hospitality, Clatsop County added 39, Columbia County chipped in 49, Lincoln County gained 133, and Tillamook County contributed 27 more jobs.
Complete records aren’t available for 2017 yet, but preliminary estimates indicate that about 475 more jobs are being added this year in leisure and hospitality in the five counties.

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