Whether traveling by plane, train, automobile or bus, more people are coming to the Tri-Cities for fun and business.
"Getting here is easy," said Kris Watkins, president and CEO of the Tri-Cities Visitors and Convention Bureau. "And we have 3,400 guest rooms just in the Tri-Cities, with more in outlying areas like Prosser, all at reasonable rates. They're a good buy for the money."
Tourism is about a $350 million industry for the area, she said, noting the hospitality industry as a whole generates almost 4,400 jobs.
It's an industry that's been on the rise, albeit gradually.
Occupancy rates for hotels and motels in Benton and Franklin counties are up, she reported.
"Benton County rates were 62.7 percent on average, up 2 percent from last year, while Franklin county rates were even better, 62.7 percent, up 3.3 percent from last year," Watkins said.
"We're even better than Seattle's occupancy rate, which state figures put at 60 percent. Usually they run 75 to 80 percent," she said.
She credits the Tri-Cities' strong business climate and especially Hanford stimulus money for the increase. Yet, she said, it's hard to tell if those numbers are up because of business travel, leisure or a combination of both.
Other attractions she cited are the convention venues, especially the Three Rivers Convention Center and TRAC, the sports facilities and burgeoning wine industry.
"It doesn't hurt that we have great weather spring, summer and fall," she said. "That's a real draw for golfers, softball and baseball tournaments and other sports events. That area of tourism continues to grow for us.
"And we're a safe community, which is especially important for K-12 sports groups," she said.
Wineries and vineyards too are a big draw. Not just for the wine, but the whole tourism experience.
"We get a lot of large groups from the U.K., The Netherlands and China coming over from Seattle who take home pictures of gently rolling hills covered in green vineyards. It's a huge hook that brings those groups in," Watkins said.
To help attract even more visitors, the Visitor and Convention Bureau is using social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
They already have put one video up on YouTube, The Heart of Washington's Wine Country.
"And we're planning more," said Jordan Youngs, director of marketing and public relations for the bureau.
The Visitor and Convention Bureau wants to hear any suggestions residents have for videos, anything from a favorite park or museum to a special restaurant.
To make suggestions, call the Visitor and Convention Bureau's office, 735-8486, go to www.visittri-cities.com, or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.