On Reflection: Many Visits, Lots of Likes

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Expect another outstanding year for Seattle’s tourism business thanks to a healthier economy, Seattle’s rising popularity as a destination and the growing number of flights into Sea-Tac Airport. 

Expedia, for example, says that, at the end of April, it had already booked 37 percent more room nights in Seattle for July than it had in 2013.

All that growth comes on top of a healthy 2013, which saw new records in overnight stays, international tourism and tourism-related employment. Visitors to the region spent $6 billion last year, an impressive 6.9 percent increase over 2012 according to Visit Seattle, a private, nonprofit marketing organization. Those purchases had an estimated $8.2 billion economic impact when including indirect spending. 

One of the brightest spots was the growth in foreign visitors. International travel to Sea-Tac rose 10 percent in 2013, according to the Port of Seattle. Overseas visitors to Washington state spent 9.6 percent more in 2013 than 2012, according to Tourism Economics, which collected the data for Visit Seattle. Foreign visitors made up just 8.2 percent of all visitors but were responsible for nearly 20 percent of spending.

Convention business, which slumped during the Great Recession, is also back with renewed intensity. The number of Washington State Convention Center visitors increased sharply last year, and had the city not been forced to turn away 300 organizations that wanted to host conventions at WSCC but couldn’t because of scheduling unavailability, it would have generated an additional $1.6 billion worth of business. 

An important contributor to the growth in tourist spending was the 3 percent increase in overnight stays last year to 18.5 million, compared to a 2 percent increase nationwide. With the demand for accommodations outpacing supply, room prices climbed an estimated 4 to 6 percent. Expedia reported a 24 percent increase in Seattle hotel revenues last year. The number of room night reservations increased 12 percent in Seattle, compared to 2 percent nationwide. Of the 146.1 million Seattle room nights booked, 300,000 were booked by overseas visitors.

The strong demand for hotel rooms has sparked a boom in hotel construction. At least 35 hotels are approved and/or under construction in Seattle, according to the national hotel database New Hotel Construction Projects. Among these is R.C. Hedreen Co.’s proposal for a 1,680-room hotel downtown. 

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