Visitor Spending in Northwest Oregon

by Erik Knoder

November 6, 2018

Visitor spending rose to $1.5 billion in Northwest Oregon in 2017. This was an increase of 0.3 percent from 2016. Visitor spending has been increasing since 2011, but the growth in 2017 was less than in recent years. Slower growth in an industry is typical as an economic expansion matures, and growth in visitor spending has been slowing since 2014.

Leisure and hospitality is the largest industry sector in Northwest Oregon. It provided about 16,100 payroll jobs on an annual average basis in 2017. This was about 17 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 $1.29 billion, and then fell 2 percent the next year. It was up and down during the recession and recovery. It was $1.23 billion in 2011 and has climbed since then.

Fuel prices are one of the factors that influence whether visitors come to the area. Gas prices averaged about $2.65 per gallon along the west coast in 2016. They rose to an average of $2.95 per gallon in 2017. Prices are often lower in the winter, but rise during the prime tourist season. The average price in 2018 through September was $3.37 per gallon. Although this increased costs for most visitors, job growth was strong in 2018 and probably gave many people confidence to take a vacation.
With visitor spending increasing and fuel costs still 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 565 (+3.6%) leisure and hospitality payroll jobs in 2017. Benton County added 35 jobs in leisure and hospitality, Clatsop County added 286, Columbia County grew by 110, and Lincoln County gained 134. Tillamook County’s leisure and hospitality employment was unchanged from 2016 to 2017.
Complete records aren’t available for 2018 yet, but preliminary estimates indicate that about 500 more jobs are being added this year in leisure and hospitality in the five counties.


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