As residents, we’re so accustomed to the Tri-Cities’ great weather, riverside trails, minimal traffic, relaxed atmosphere and unique attractions that we occasionally take these community features for granted — at least until we realize they are the very reasons our community is selected for conventions, sports tournaments and leisure travel.
Visitors to our region not only remind us that we live in a world-class destination, but also make us aware that tourism is a driving force in bolstering the local economy and sustaining our desirable quality of life.
Last year tourism generated more than $444 million in visitor spending in the Tri-City region. Convention delegates, sports teams, business and leisure travelers from throughout the Pacific Northwest (and even the world!) stayed in our hotels, dined at our restaurants, sipped at our wineries, enjoyed local attractions and so on.
More than $50 million in local and state tax receipts were collected from visitors. This revenue supports local infrastructure, fire and police departments, transportation and education, and reduces our overall tax burden.
An energized tourism program also supports a diverse and prosperous business community where small and medium-sized business, such as coffee shops and boutiques, flourish due to the financial support of visitor spending.
In turn, employment opportunities are created. Tourism sustains more than 6,150 jobs in the Tri-City region, which will continue to grow with the addition of new attractions, restaurants and hotels.
Our region boasts an inventory of more than 4,000 guest rooms. Hotels experienced a 62.6 percent occupancy rate in 2017, a 7.4 percent growth over 2016. To maintain this success, it is vital for Visit TRI-CITIES to further develop marketing programs to continually attract visitors to the area.
One such program is regional wayfinding, which will help move visitors and residents throughout the Tri-Cities so they can make their way to attractions, shopping districts and gathering places and increase local economic impact.
The regional wayfinding plan was completed through a collaborative effort between the cities of Kennewick, Pasco, Richland and West Richland; the Port of Benton, Port of Kennewick and Port of Pasco; Benton and Franklin counties; and coordinated by Visit Tri-Cities staff. Regional Wayfinding signage will start to show up as early as the end of this year.
Progress continues in the development of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park. Visit Tri-Cities and its counterparts in Los Alamos, N.M., and Oak Ridge, Tenn., created a unified brand for the three park sites to increase awareness.
And with the appointment of a National Park Service manager at the Hanford unit, the Manhattan Project National Historical Park is closer than ever to the elevated visitor experience envisioned.
Wineries are one of the most popular attractions in our region. Visitors stay in the Tri-Cities to enjoy the more than 200 wineries and vineyards within a one-hour drive and to enjoy the authentic wine country experience.
Earlier this year, the community welcomed the Columbia Gardens Wine & Artisan Village, a joint effort between the Port of Kennewick and the City of Kennewick. The village features two wine tasting rooms and production facilities with future plans for additional amenities such as artwork, a public plaza and a food truck cluster.
Columbia Gardens not only enriches the visitor experience, but the revitalization of the historic waterfront creates a vibrant gathering place for the community.
Tourism not only serves as an economic driver, it is a reflection of community pride. Whether it is a regional wayfinding plan or the development of an attraction, tourism can unite a community to achieve common goals. Just one more reason the Tri-Cities has enjoyed impressive growth in the tourism sector year after year!