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Seattle Tourism Took a Hit in 2009
 but Should Rebound in 2010

By Susan Gilmore, The Seattle TimesMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

May 11, 2010 -- Seattle's tourism industry took a hit last year, the first time it declined since the Sept. 11 terrorist attack.

In a new report, released Tuesday by the King County Convention and Visitors Bureau, overnight visitor volumes in the city and King County declined 5.6 percent between 2008 and 2009. Those 8.8 million visitors spent $6.8 billion while visiting here, a decline of 8.4 percent.

However, said the visitor's bureau, much of this decline was due to lower room rates and lower gas prices compared to 2008; when adjusted, the travel spending was down 2.9 percent.

Still, said local tourism officials, the impact to local tourism from the global economic recession was less severe here than around the country and there's indications of a rebound for 2010.

The report also found:

--Seattle and King County visitors paid $416 million in state and local taxes in 2009; about 95 percent of these taxes were sales or excise taxes on goods and services purchased by visitors.

--Travel-generated employment decreased 5.7 percent in King County last year. That compares to the total private-sector employment in the Seattle-Bellevue-Everett area, which went down 6.2 percent.

--Estimates of visitor air travel on domestic flights show a decline of 4 percent at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, compared with a 5.8 percent decline for the rest of the country.

"The worldwide recession, beginning in the latter half of 2008, has had a profound effect on the travel industry," said Dean Runyan, whose company prepared the tourism report. ""Private households have curtailed their spending on most goods and services, including travel, and businesses have reduced their travel budgets."

Still, local tourism officials say there may be a turnaround in 2010. First-quarter hotel occupancy ranks among the highest of the top 25 U.S. cities, said the visitors bureau, up 10 to 17 percent. Average room rates in the Seattle area were still lower than the same period last year.

The bureau points to other factors it believes will see a rebound in the tourist industry. It said the Port of Seattle projects record sailings and strong passenger volumes on cruise ships, and a major new exhibit featuring rarely-seen Picasso masterpieces is expected to draw thousands of out-of-town visitors to the Seattle Art Museum this fall and winter. Plus, the Pacific Science Center announced a King Tut exhibit that will also draw visitors.

Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or sgilmore@seattletimes.com

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Copyright (c) 2010, The Seattle Times

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