2020 has been a turbulent year for tourism as it has been for so many industries and individuals.
Tourism is a significant economic engine for our community, driving half a billion dollars in visitor spending and supporting more than 5,600 jobs.
Tourism helps small businesses not only survive but thrive and helps attract new businesses. Local tourism generates $55 million in state and local taxes. The taxes generated by visitors helps lower Tri-Citians’ tax burden by roughly $740 per household. These taxes help to fund police and fire, schools and teachers, roads, parks and so much more.
In short, tourism creates economic vitality and quality of life in the Tri-Cities for all residents to enjoy.
As you may know, tourism was one of the first industries to feel the immediate effects of Covid-19 and remains one of the hardest hit. Industry analysts are predicting the tourism industry will see a 45% loss in 2020 nationally.
When visitors come to our community they spend money traveling to and from the Tri-Cities (think planes, trains and automobiles).
They spend money in our hotels, our restaurants, wineries and breweries, at our attractions. They shop at our retail stores, pump gas and buy groceries.
Unfortunately, the pandemic has led to business closures of hotels, restaurants, retail and many others. Some temporary and sadly, others permanent.
Gone are those jobs and some of the businesses that make the Tri-Cities special. Others have persevered, but times are tough. Please consider supporting local establishments however you can.
Many businesses have embraced innovation this year; they’ve made lemonade.
The following is simply a sampling of the ways our community has persevered, entertained, fueled and fed us during the pandemic.
The cities of Kennewick, Pasco, Richland and West Richland all held drive-in movies.
At the Visit Tri-Cities annual meeting in November, we awarded our Excellence in Service and Kris Watkins Tourism Champion awards to two incredible tourism businesses that pivoted operations and put energy and resources into community endeavors with far reaching impact.
Our Excellence in Service winner, The Lodge at Columbia Point, was fortunate to qualify for Paycheck Protection Program funding, but how do you keep staff members meaningfully employed when your hotel is nearly empty?
This group of tourism professionals chose to dedicate their work hours to improving opportunities for others. They partnered with Grace Kitchen, which exists to empower and employ women out of poverty.
The hotel staff worked full time for a month helping to renovate the Grace Kitchen building, allowing the nonprofit to open its doors by year-end and in turn serve others.
This year’s Kris Watkins Tourism Champion of the Year, was Corey Pearson and the team at the Three Rivers Campus (Three Rivers Convention Center, Toyota Arena and Toyota Center), which has been closed throughout the pandemic.
Within the first month of the stay-home order, it became clear that many Tri-Citians were struggling to put food on the table and the need for food distribution was outpacing the capacity of the traditional channels.
Pearson and the Three Rivers campus team saw an opportunity to help others by organizing mobile food markets. The results were nothing short of phenomenal.
More than 810,000 pounds of food were distributed to more than 6,000 families over an eight-week period. Together with Second Harvest, they coordinated 5,740 hours of volunteer support. And their good work did not stop there.
In addition, the Three Rivers team partnered with the Benton-Franklin Health District to provide drive-thru Covid-19 testing, hosted a Halloween Trunk or Treat for the community and again partnered with Second Harvest to organize a Thanksgiving Turkey Drive.
At Visit Tri-Cities, we have been busy innovating and continuing to invest in community during the pandemic.
We stood up the Tri-Cities Open For Business initiative with the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce and TRIDEC to promote and preserve local business, local jobs and our economy.
Late spring, we once again partnered with these two organizations to create the Tri-Cities Open and Safe Coalition in coordination with public health officials to help businesses safely reopen.
We also worked tirelessly with government and business leaders to help our community move through the phases of the Safe Start program. This group, called the Municipality Advisory Council, has been very successful in working directly with the governor’s office to open up our community since early summer.
We are still finding our way through this pandemic, but it is encouraging to see so many Tri-Citians embrace innovation, collaboration and support of one another. This is how we will successfully get through the pandemic…together.
Michael Novakovich is president and CEO of Visit Tri-Cities, the region’s tourism agency.
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