Downtown Seattle shows strong tourism recovery as Tacoma lags

ByShannon J. Cortes

Sep 5, 2022

The ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to be felt in the tourism recovery of Tacoma and Pierce County.

By comparison, Seattle performed better with downtown visitors and hotel occupancy.

Downtown Seattle Association August Recovery Report said: “Downtown welcomed more than 2.9 million visitors in July – the highest monthly visitor total since the start of the pandemic.”

Hotel demand was also back, as the association said: “Downtown hotel room demand remained strong in July, reaching 94% of 2019 levels.” It reached 96% in June.

In Tacoma, tourism data presented Tuesday, Aug. 30, to the city council’s economic development committee showed growth in visitors remained below pre-pandemic levels, although visitor numbers from surrounding towns were on the rise. .

Dean Burke, president and CEO of Travel Tacoma – Mt. Rainier Tourism and Sports, told committee members to remember that even though room rates are going up, “inflation is not a recovery”.

While the percentage of visitors traveling up to 500 miles is up from 2019, those coming from 500 to 1,000 miles are down 23.83% and those 1,000 miles or more are down more than 30%.

Unique visitors to Tacoma from January to May are down 21.5% this year compared to 2019, and hotel occupancy is down 16.6% over the same period for downtown.

Downtown Tacoma has had 65,543 unique visitors so far this year, though that number is regularly updated amid data lags.

In Pierce County, hotel occupancy from January to May was down 8.5% from 2019.

In downtown Tacoma, average daily room rates in 2019 were $152.68 and dropped to $87.65 in 2020. So far this year, the average rate is $156.57. For Pierce County, average daily room rates in 2019 were $106.31, and year-to-date the rate is $116.90.

During the pandemic, “downtown areas anywhere have suffered disproportionately compared to the rest of the United States,” Burke said.

For downtown now, he noted, “We still have rooms offline, we still have staff shortages, we still have issues downtown,” the concentration of people still not being “just not as strong”.

For the county, he predicted that hotel occupancy could reach 71% by the end of the year, standing at 69.1% currently.

“We’re catching up,” he noted, with the 2019 countywide occupancy percentage at over 75%.

The return of conventions and the growth of sporting events were both expected to help drive Tacoma’s turnaround. Burke noted that while the meetings and conventions industry “across the country is absolutely taking the longest time to recover from the pandemic, I would also say that right now it’s the fastest (returning) compared to to forecasts.

“We are aiming to create 105,000 new room nights next year which we will create and sell directly from our office,” he said. Of these, “45,000 of those overnight stays will be at sporting events, 40,000 will be leisure travelers and the balance of those 20,000 will be meetings and conventions. We will reach approximately 400 events over the next calendar year and approximately one million travelers directly. »

He also noted that while other markets have a strong main attraction, Tacoma reaped the benefits of Mount Rainier, downtown museums and more.

Mount Rainier in 2021 for the first time in history saw more than one million vehicles, according to National Park Service visitation records, and more than 2.4 million visitors, up from more than 2.2 million in 2019.

“When people come here, they actually do a lot more things than they would in most other markets,” Burke told council members. “So if they’re going to Vegas or Disney or Dallas, their experience is much more narrow, much more focused. And here they’ll do so many different things and also have a more balanced experience.

Sea Tac in numbers

Another regional entity is also lagging behind in recovery.

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport planned in an August 26 online travel update that Labor Day weekend would bring about 10% more travelers than last year. He noted that was still “10% below pre-pandemic levels”.

Travel to Europe has returned to pre-pandemic levels, the airport said, while “Mexico/Central America services increased 263% in July compared to 2019.”

Friday, September 2 was expected to be the busiest travel day, according to Sea-Tac, “with an estimated 155,000 passengers traveling through the airport (departure, arrival and connection)”. The second busiest was to be Thursday September 1st.

Monday September 5 was expected to be the third busiest day of the bank holiday weekend, with 146,000 travelers expected.

“Pre-pandemic passenger numbers reached 185,000 per day over Labor Day weekend in 2019,” the airport noted.

Sea-Tac forecast 2022 to close around 10% below 2019’s level, and next year is expected to be 3% lower than the pre-pandemic period. The airport said it plans to return to pre-pandemic traffic levels in 2024.

Debbie Cockrell has worked for The News Tribune since 2009. She reports on business and development, local and regional issues.