Tournaments and conventions keep drawing more visitors to the Tri-Cities.
Although the number of events the first half of the year was the same as last year, the number of teams and participants climbed.
And that means they were spending more money -- 10.7 percent more, according to the Tri-Cities Visitor & Convention Bureau's mid-year report.
The Tri-Cities played host to 61,149 visitors connected with 121 sporting events and conventions through June. And those visitors spent about $17.5 million on hotels, gas, restaurants and more.
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"We really have an area that is easy to get to, we've got great infrastructure," said Kris Watkins, the bureau's president and CEO.
In addition to affordable hotels, traffic is reasonable and it is easy for visitors to get around, she said. Any sports field can be reached in 20 minutes.
And the opening of the Southridge Sports and Events Complex in south Kennewick has helped increase the number of sports teams coming to the area, Watkins said.
Overall, hotels have seen a 5 percent decrease in revenues during the first half of the year, which Watkins attributes to a decrease in government travel with the end of the federal stimulus dollars.
But compared with 2009, before the stimulus package, this year's hotel revenues are up 11.3 percent, she said.
Hotel occupancy also has remained at a healthy 56 percent through June, she said. That exceeds other Eastern Washington communities by 3 percent to 10 percent.
Business and government travel is a large part of tourism and is especially important during the first part of the week, she said.
And weekday traffic could increase after the Three Rivers Convention Center is expanded, Watkins said.
The Kennewick Public Facilities District is planning a 46,000-square-foot expansion of the convention center at a cost of about $15 million. The expansion is being coordinated so that it's completed at the same time that a convention center hotel is built by a private developer.
The facilities district recently hired ALSC Architects and Conventional Wisdom of Spokane to begin designing the exhibit hall expansion for the convention center.
"We do need to expand our convention center if we are wanting to expand our tourism industry," Watkins said.
That should especially help during the slower tourism times of the year after Labor Day weekend and before Memorial Day weekend, she said.
Watkins said there are many promising things that may help increase visitors to the Tri-Cities.
Already this year, 74 future conventions and sporting events have booked dates in the next three or so years, Watkins said. That is new business beyond what already was planned and could bring in about $10.1 million in visitor spending.
Having the B Reactor become part of the National Park System and continuing growth of the state's wine industry also will help attract an increasing number of Tri-City visitors, she said.
-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; firstname.lastname@example.org