Over a weekend earlier this month, 97 of the 156 rooms at the Red Lion Hotel Yakima Center were booked.
“Last weekend was a very busy weekend,” said COO Maria Nuñez.
Customers were a mix of out-of-town construction workers and leisure travelers, she said.
It’s not quite back to normal: Nuñez continues to receive cancellations for hotel stays related to events and conferences already scheduled at the nearby Yakima Convention Center. But many of those customers have booked for 2022.
The tourism and hospitality industry is forecasting a strong summer season after suffering monumental losses in income and jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Local businesses say they have started to see a gradual upturn in travel activity which is expected to continue throughout the summer, typically a busy season for tourism in the Yakima Valley.
About 87.3% of people said they plan to take a trip this summer, according to the findings of a recent weekly survey from Destination Analysts, a travel and tourism marketing research company in San Francisco.
This season comes just as Washington State lifts its restrictions on COVID-19 at the end of June, allowing restaurants, breweries and other tourist destinations to operate at full capacity.
“The trajectory looks promising,” said David Blandford, executive director of the Washington Tourism Alliance, which oversees the state’s tourism marketing efforts.
Recovering from huge losses
Industry officials expect a long recovery, given the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on the tourism and hospitality industry.
Travel spending in the United States was $ 680.3 billion in 2020, a 42% drop from 2019, according to figures from the US Travel Association.
Figures for last year’s local travel spending are not yet available, but the loss is likely to be substantial based on the pre-pandemic figures. According to Yakima Valley Tourism, travelers spent $ 347 million in Yakima County in 2019 and generated $ 36 million in state and local taxes.
Figures for the economic impact of sporting events show a significant negative impact in 2020. The Yakima Valley hosted a major sporting event, the WIAA State Basketball Championships, before the pandemic struck in the middle. March of last year. In total, the region hosted 108 sporting events that generated $ 8.2 million in economic activity in 2020, an 84% drop from 2019, according to figures from the Yakima Valley Sports Commission.
According to Yakima Valley Tourism, 56 conferences / conventions were canceled in 2020, resulting in the cancellation of 17,309 room nights, a loss of $ 5.8 million in spending. But many of those conferences and conventions have committed to new dates in 2021 or 2022, the organization said in its annual report. Recently, Yakima Valley Tourism unveiled a new 18,000 square foot addition to the Yakima Convention Center.
Travel professional associations around the world, including the US Travel Association, expect full recovery to take several years.
Blandford of the Washington Tourism Alliance said as more people get vaccinated and feel more comfortable resuming activities outside of their homes, they can’t wait to resume their travels.
“We know the demand for travel is pent up,” he said. “There was a demand before the pandemic.”
Historically, the Yakima Valley has been a destination for travelers from other parts of the northwest. And figures from the Destination Analysts survey show that 46.3% of visitors plan to make “discreet escapes near their home.”
The Red Lion Hotel Yakima Center is close to the Yakima Convention Center, so its clientele has historically leaned heavily – up 75% – to groups in the city for conferences and events, said Nuñez, director. of hotel operations.
This summer, she expects most of the hotel’s guests to be leisure travelers.
“They are here for the beer and the vineyards,” she says. “I know we’re going to see people for those two things.”
Wendy King has private bookings for The Little Hopper, her brewery tour business, every weekend through August. Many of these bookings come from people coming from the Seattle and Portland areas.
“I have had very busy April and May and I’m coming in busy June, July and August,” she said.
It also sees visitors from out of town reserving seats on its hop-on hop-off shuttle routes, where buses run around three to four breweries throughout the day. Visitors can hop on and off at various stops at their leisure for a fixed fee.
“They visit family, or they come to the east side for the sun and the beer,” she says.
A year ago, King, who had just started her business, was very unsure whether she could stay in business with so few bookings. She managed to stay afloat by doing local tours and using the savings to cover expenses.
“It’s just exciting to reopen it and welcome people back,” she said.
One brewery that hopes to see more visitors this summer is 5th Line Brewing Co., which opened earlier this year at 1015 E. Lincoln Ave., Suite 106. It is close to the Fairfield Inn and Suites and the High Step Climbing. Center.
Due to statewide COVID-19 restrictions, the brewery has had to forgo the typical grand opening. However, co-owner Kristina Coppock said there were benefits to a quieter opening.
“It’s good not to be super overwhelmed and go into some crazy business from the start,” she said.
She said the brewery was also able to spend more time building the facility. The brewery has recently increased its taps to serve more varieties of its beer.
The pandemic had created a single source of new customers – residents of other parts of Washington state who visited the COVID-19 mass vaccination site at State Fair Park. The brewery is also a top destination for vaccination site workers looking to unwind after a busy day.
The brewery has also attracted new customers from a new Tesla charging station which was installed recently. The brewery is within walking distance of the charging station. Many Tesla owners have visited the brewery while their car is charging and posted about the brewery when reviewing the Tesla Charging Station Online.
Coppock looks forward to fall, when the brewery can play its hockey theme at the start of the ice hockey season. He plans to broadcast games from the Seattle Kraken, the new NHL team.
In the meantime, Coppock can’t wait to see more locals and tourists enter the brewery.
“We stayed busy and more and more busy,” Coppock said. “That’s always the goal; keep things flowing. “