Yakima Valley, state organizations ready to welcome visitors back

 Tuesday, February 8, 2022 


After many U.S. and worldwide travellers put their plans on hold for two years, 2022 could mark their return to Washington state.

But the way they travel, and the best ways to accommodate them, will be different after COVID-19.

Those were the dominant messages conveyed Friday as David Blandford, Executive Director of the newly named State of Washington Tourism organization, spoke to about 50 local tourism industry officials at the Yakima Convention Center.

The U.S. Travel Association estimates a three to five-year recovery period from COVID, as said by Blandford at the meeting, organized by the Yakima Valley Tourism bureau. People still want to travel.

Demand remains high, Blandford also added. There will be a lot of changes in the way people travel, just as there was 20 years ago after 9/11.

The former Washington Tourism Alliance has been reborn and rebranded with a mixture of public money and private funding, Blandford said.

State of Washington Tourism has an annual budget of roughly $10 million, which means it’s still last among western U.S. states “but we’re inching up on Idaho,” which has a $13 million state tourism budget, Blandford said.
He estimated Oregon spends about $40 million promoting tourism, and California about $120 million.

The pace of the travel industry’s recovery across Washington is uneven, Blandford said. Some parts of the state are swamped with visitors, while others are looking for more tourists.

For that reason, State of Washington Tourism has three main goals for 2022: destination development, promoting travel through trade shows, and consumer marketing.

The latter will reach out to regional, national and some international travellers as Washington looks to regain the tourism market share it has lost to neighbors such as Oregon and British Columbia, Blandford said.

He unveiled a new website, that will target independent-minded “pathfinders” who seek unique experiences.

The campaign will include photos and videos that show a vibrant array of colors from around the state — not just “evergreen green.”

The tourism organization will market 11 different regions in the state the Yakima Valley is part of “Wine Country” with the understanding that Washington’s variety of climate, geography and cultures is a plus for visitors, Blandford said.

Education of visitors and potential visitors is also the Yakima Valley Tourism bureau’s goal, said John Cooper, President and CEO of the local organization.

He reviewed the local 2021 tourism season, noting it was a rebound from 2020, when visitor spending declined 29% in the Yakima Valley due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Highlights included the reopening of an expanded Yakima Convention Center, which already has a healthy number of events planned this year.

Hotel bookings were up 57% from 2020, and retail sales tax revenue increased by 25% from 2020 to 2021, Cooper said. He credited the Yakima Valley Sports Commission for bringing youth sports tournaments, WIAA state tournaments and other events back to the region.

Sports tourism played an important role in the Yakima Valley tourism recovery in 2021, Cooper said.

Cooper also debuted a new marketing video and the 2022 Travel Guide brochure, which was not printed in 2021 due to the uncertainties surrounding COVID restrictions.

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