Tri-City tourism expected to set new record in 2022

The Tri-City tourism market returned to prepandemic levels and is poised to beat 2019 levels this year, courtesy athletic events and leisure travelers.

Visitor spending exceeded $489.3 million in 2021, a figure based on federal and state data as well as tax receipts and lodging industry surveys. It is 41.8% more than 2020 and just shy of the record set in 2019, before Covid-19 brought travel and related spending to a standstill.

Visitor spending translated into
$51.2 million for local and state tax coffers and supported about 4,700 local jobs.

After a strong first quarter, Visit Tri-Cities expects 2022 will set a new record. The trend puts the Tri-Cities well ahead of the rest of Washington, which is still struggling to recover.

Visit Tri-Cities expects to get an even bigger bump after it successfully hosted the 2022 Travel Bloggers Exchange North American convention in April. The so-called TBEX gathering brought 300 travel writers to the community to tour wineries and visit local restaurants and visitor destinations.

Several requested photos and scheduled follow-up visits, a sign they’re preparing stories and videos for their media outlets, exactly the payoff Visit Tri-Cities hoped for.

Local businesses used #TBEXTriCities on social media posts throughout the gathering, a campaign that led to a welcome flurry of interactions.

When it was all over, Visit Tri-Cities turned its attention to fostering positive coverage in its own community. It took local journalists on a tour designed to give them a glimpse of what the community looks like through a visitor’s eyes.

The idea is to encourage area residents to bring their friends and family to the Tri-Cities for gatherings.

Journalists checked out electric bikes from Pedego in Richland and tooled along the Columbia River waterfront, crossing along the Interstate 182 bridge to explore west Pasco, all in less than an hour.

They dined at LU LU Craft Bar + Kitchen at Columbia Point and took lessons on the growing sport of axe throwing from Landon Lawson, who launched AXE KPR at 8425 Chapel Hill Blvd. in Pasco shortly before the pandemic took hold.

All are valuable assets that visitors want, tourism officials said.

“Don’t meet folks in Seattle. Meet them here,”  said Michael Novakovich, president and CEO of Visit Tri-Cities. “We’re making ambassadors out of residents.”

Novakovich isn’t surprised the Tri-Cities is leading the rebound. It has all the right ingredients to attract pandemic-wary travelers who want to stay close to home – it is within driving distance of Seattle, Portland, Boise and other cities and has pleasant weather and plenty of outdoor activities.

“The Tri-Cities is well positioned,” he said.

Science tourism is about to get a boost with the anticipated opening of the LIGO Exploration Center, a visitor center attached to the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory at the Hanford site. It is expected to open this summer.

Construction of the wave-shaped center wrapped earlier this year. The center will host up to 10,000 students a year and others interested in learning about the gravitational wave research effort that won its principals the 2017 Nobel Prize for Physics.

Go to for information about events and destinations in the Tri-Cities.

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