Visit Tri-Cities champions tourism recovery, economic prosperity

Sense of community is why we do what we do, and relationships are how we get it done. These two things enabled us to be successful during the pandemic as our industry was crippled by declining hotel occupancies, hospitality staffing shortages and financial hardships.

Due to the impacts of the pandemic, visitor spending was down by 30% in 2020. That said, we more than survived; we made significant investments to position our community well to achieve greater outcomes for years to come and we’ve done it through numerous partnerships.

2021 got off to a slow start as our state was still operating under a phased approach with its associated restrictions, which crippled our ability to host meetings, conventions and sports. Visit Tri-Cities worked directly with the Governor’s Policy Office, Washington State Department of Health, and Labor & Industries through a small coalition of tourism leaders across the state to safely bring back our meetings and conventions business.

Our group, the Washington Safe Meetings Coalition, had success in advancing these opportunities that are significant economic drivers.

Early this spring sports teams were still unable to compete due to phased restrictions. However, once teams had the ability to hit the fields, it was game on! We were excited to host nearly 100 teams for our largest baseball tournament in June and 80 softballs teams who competed in late season play this October. These are only two examples of the many sporting events that took place, which also included the Tri-Cities Water Follies and the WIAA State Cross Country Meet. Sports truly were a bright spot in 2021.

To bring back the safe return of tourism while preserving local businesses, jobs, community health and economic vitality, Visit Tri-Cities partnered with Benton and Franklin counties, the cities of Kennewick, Pasco, Richland, West Richland, Prosser, Benton City and the Benton Franklin Health District to provide Covid mitigation communications to our region. In fact, our team was recently recognized by the Destination Marketing Association of the West with an Outstanding Achievement Best Idea Award for our innovative Covid mitigation communications.

Leisure travel continues to reign supreme as we saw a steady stream of visitors in our community enjoying the heart of Washington wine country, outdoor recreation, and our growing food and craft beverage scene. The return of performing arts aided in attracting visitors to our region as did the return of many of our festivals like Art in the Park.

Our partners in the leisure and hospitality space have done a dynamite job of creating new opportunities to safely host visitors and community members. Our seasonable climate has led many businesses to offer more opportunities outdoors. Others have adopted measures to remain financially viable while safely managing their environments. Hospitality workforce shortages continue to be an issue for many. To address this, Visit Tri-Cities ran a hospitality workforce recruitment campaign highlighting how these jobs can provide ladder opportunities to managerial positions.

Tourism is big business and a significant economic engine for our region, even during a pandemic. In 2020 Visit Tri-Cities helped drive $345 million in visitor spending locally and generated nearly $40 million in state and local tax revenue. The American Empress paddleboat regularly stops in Richland. (Courtesy American Queen Steamboat Company)

To aid these businesses and drive economic recovery, in July we launched our new membership model, which eliminates dues for qualifying tourism-related businesses such as restaurants, attractions, museums, wineries, craft beverage operations, transportation providers, specialty retail, recreation, professional sports, performing arts and similar entities that attract leisure visitation to Benton and Franklin counties. 

This change allows us to better serve our community by showcasing all tourism-related aspects of our region rather than only dues paying members. This gives the Tri-Cities a more competitive position as a visitor destination. It also provides greater opportunity to embrace the diversity of our community in an inclusive manner.

This year we launched a suite of digital products to compel visitation, enrich our visitors’ experiences and influence visitor spending. Residents can enjoy these same offerings, which include our new digital passes like our Wine Pass and Ales & Tails Pass. We will be launching an Indoor Adventure Pass very soon. Each pass provides discounts, prizes and more.

We also launched a virtual tour called SkyNav, which provides 360-degree bird’s eye views of the Tri-Cities as well as tours of various local establishments. We officially launched our new VisitTri-Cities.com website in November that includes an itinerary builder, a user-generated content image gallery, ability to book a room, find great dining, entertainment, SkyNav and more. You also can find our digital passes under our Deals section.

Visitors and Tri-Citians will love the new look and functionality of our Calendar of Events. We worked with the MyTri2030 Life Council to add features to create an even more robust community calendar. This includes our sharing feature that allows anyone to select event types they are interested in and copy a snippet of code they can placed on their website, which will populate with events from our calendar. If you are hosting an event that has the potential to draw visitors to our community, we encourage you post it on our website (select Calendar of Events/Submit Event). It’s easy, it’s free and we receive over 300,000 unique visitors annually.

Tourism is big business and a significant economic engine for our region. Even during Covid. In 2020 Visit Tri-Cities helped drive $345 million in visitor spending locally and generated nearly $40 million in state and local tax revenue.

We are expecting the outcomes of 2021 to look substantially better. Tourism helps small businesses thrive and helps attract new business and supports thousands of local jobs.

The nearly $40 million in state and local taxes generated by visitors last year helps lower Tri-Citians’ tax burden by roughly $400 per household. Even better, these taxes help to fund police and fire, schools and teachers, roads, parks and more.

In short, the work we do touches every Tri-Citian in a positive way and helps to build a safe, educated, employed and beautiful community filled with many amenities for all to enjoy. The work of Visit Tri-Cities and our partners enhances quality of life for every Tri-Citian. So, get out there, enjoy our community, share it on your socials and invite your friends and family for a visit.

Michael Novakovich is president  and CEO of Visit Tri-Cities.

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