Seattle sees uptick in tourism, still way below pre-pandemic levels

 Wednesday, March 30, 2022 

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Seattle and King County have seen monthly increases in hotel occupancy, and there are other positive signs that tourism is on the rebound.


According to a status report from Visit Seattle, hotel occupancy is up month to month, from January to February, 11% in Downtown and 8% across King County, and sits at 56% across the county in the last four weeks.


While not near 2018, and 2019 levels, when the city was setting tourism records every year, the numbers are trending in the right direction. Other figures are suggesting that the industry will come roaring back.


For instance, there are 296 cruise calls this year, and SeaTac Airport is averaging 43,000 flight passengers a day, and the Washington State Convention Center is planning for multiple conferences including an April Anime event with 24,000 attendees booked.


Visit Seattle declined a request on Monday to discuss the findings or what they could mean for the return of visitors to the region.


On Tuesday, the Seattle City Council is expected to approve an ordinance which would allow for the collection of $2-$4 per hotel room, per night for tourism promotion.


But others in the industry said they weren’t surprised by the numbers.


“The US Travel is really back to (pre-pandemic) levels,” said Walker Willingham of Metzger Maps, near Pike Place Market. The venerable Seattle institution attracts internationally conscious visitors, and Willingham says, he’s starting to see more shoppers from Europe and Africa as well.


Tal Aharon was browsing through the store on Monday, and in Seattle for the first time. “Seattle is beautiful,” said Aharon of Boston. “I like traveling, so as long as you’re staying safe, it is reasonable to travel again.”


The changes at the Canadian border are also likely to be another boost. Starting Friday, visitors or returning residents to Canada will no longer have to show proof of a negative COVID test. That’s been a deterrent to travel between British Columbia and Washington State.


“Canada is half our business,” said Allison Russell of Kenmore Air, as she stood outside one of the companies signature float planes on Monday.


“At our low, we were down to about ten employees,” she said about the pandemic.


But recently, they’ve been staffing up, preparing to relaunch service to Victoria and Vancouver Island, with a “nerd bird” to downtown Vancouver from Lake Union later in the summer.


“If we can get all the way back to what we normally are by the end of this summer, that’s a huge win for us,” said Russell. “It feels like things are getting closer and closer.”


On April 15, the Victoria Clipper will also resume service to Vancouver Island.


It all comes, of course, as mask and vaccine mandates have dropped, and people have become more comfortable gathering in spaces with case rates low.


After two years of hits to the hospitality and tourism sectors, Russell will take it.

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