Lodging receipts down, but not out

Peninsula slump defies industry-wide freefall

The roller-coaster ride that was the 2020 tourist lodging industry on the North Olympic Peninsula ended on a positive note, a top Olympic Peninsula Visitor Bureau official said.

Marsha Massey, executive director for the regional organization, said Tuesday a robust fall marketing campaign helped fuel an uptick in visitors at the end of 2020 that could foretell a strong, post-COVID-19 economy to come.

It likely will be fueled, once Canada lifts its travel restrictions, by passengers from the Black Ball Ferry Line’s M.V. Coho, which company co-owner Ryan Malane said Thursday can survive in downtime-mode until spring 2022, if need be.

“We have enough to make it through to then,” said Malane, whose vessel has been prevented from making trips to Victoria, B.C., by Canadian travel restrictions.

He said one way Black Ball is keeping a few of its 120 employees working is by branching off its marketing department to research products like the report Massey employed to assess the 2020 lodging industry.

Malane deduced from his conversations with area lodging business entrepreneurs that much of the activity in overnight establishments occurred in the Airbnb sector.

Massey said last week the increase in fall tourism activity included a 53 percent boost in occupancy at Clallam County parks, a 30 percent occupancy rate from travelers from Seattle at Port Ludlow Resort, and traffic into the Hoh Rain Forest was so busy that Olympic National Park closed the entrance over the Thanksgiving weekend because the parking lot was full.

Massey, who gave an overview of the 2020 tourism industry for a Feb. 10 Port Angeles Chamber of Commerce presentation, said Tuesday that lodging tax receipts from January through December 2020 in Clallam and Jefferson counties were down 27 percent compared with 2019.

There is a two-month lag between when revenue is generated to when it’s reported.

She said that was not as bad as it could have been.

“That was much better than the industry average, and much better than we anticipated in the midst of the pandemic,” she said.

North Olympic Peninsula tourism industry entrepreneurs in May and June were expecting a 50 percent drop, which was in keeping with the 48 percent average decline that occurred in the lodging industry nationwide, she said.

The year started out stronger than ever for lodging taxes on the Peninsula before the economy took a head punch due to COVID-19 restrictions that took effect in March.

Massey said combined lodging tax receipts for Clallam and Jefferson counties were up 9 percent January and April 2020 compared with the record year for 2019.

From May through October, they were down 42 percent.

November and December were down 5 percent compared to 2019’s record year during a robust “You can’t get any more Northwest!” “Fall Recovery” advertising campaign.

It targeted the I-5 corridor between Bellingham and Portland, Ore., drawing 178,000 visits to the Bureau’s olympicpeninsula.org website, a 50 percent increase compared with 2019, she said.

“If you extend that out to include January 2021 reporting, so November 2020, December 2020 and January 2021 are compared to same time [in the] prior year, which reflects the majority of the ad campaign, the positive trend continues, so that the difference is only -3 percent,” Massey said Tuesday in an email.

The focused approach helped dull the sharp edges of a season when tourism mainstays such as the Dungeness Crab & Seafood Festival could not take place due to restrictions on large gatherings.

Information offered to the public included educating them about safety protocols.

For the $87,500 fall campaign, there were 42.5 million campaign impressions, or the total number of times the website was viewed, generating an estimated $1.2 million in revenue, according to olympicpeninsula.org.

There was a 46 percent increase in website users, a 61 percent increase in page views, a 52 percent increase in Google search impressions and an 88 percent increase in clicks to the website from a Google search,

The Olympic Peninsula Tourism Commission, administered by the Olympic Peninsula Visitor Bureau, covers Clallam, Jefferson and Mason counties, and the northern part of Grays Harbor County. The commission is a marketing partnership funded by counties and municipalities across the Olympic Peninsula.

“We’re still on a rebuilding curve,” Massey said Wednesday, predicting that May and June will be stronger than last year, but not as strong as 2019.

“It’s fair to say the pandemic has set us back a couple of years,” she said.

The visitor bureau will continue focusing on drawing visitors from Washington and Oregon rather than reaching out, like it would in a non-COVID world, to Canada, Florida and Texas.

“Nobody wants to go through the yo-yo thing of up and down, up and down, open one day and closed the next,” Massey said.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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