SEATTLE (May 4, 2022) – New figures released by State of Washington Tourism (SWT) indicate significant improvement in the state’s visitor volume, expenditures, tax receipts, and employment in 2021 over 2020, but the statistics illustrate that tourism recovery still lags significantly behind 2019 levels
In 2019, immediately preceding the pandemic, visitor volume increased by 2% to a total of 110 million, and their direct spending totaled $21.9 billion, up 4.5% in current dollars over 2018. On average, visitors spent $60 million per day in Washington State in 2019. State and local taxes, generated by this spending, tallied nearly $2.4 billion in 2019, a 5.4% increase. The state’s tourism industry supported nearly 165,000 jobs in 2019, an increase of 2.3% over the previous year, and those jobs generated direct income of $5.7 billion.
The state tourism industry’s current total economic output of $29.5 billion pales in comparison to robust pre-pandemic growth; however, visitor spending increased 4.8% per annum between 2015 and 2019, generating $10.9 billion in direct state GDP in 2019 alone, before the industry’s near total shutdown in 2020 due to COVID-19. Tourism employment saw cumulative growth of 15% in that five-year period
Prior to the pandemic, the leisure and hospitality sector led job growth in the state. Tourism supports 205,000 jobs in Washington State, including both direct and indirectly-related jobs, having increased 8.7% over 2020. Direct jobs numbered 131,000, with 48,807 in the food and beverage sector, followed by 23,557 in recreation, 19,366 in retail, and 22,991 in lodging; some 73,000 were indirectly supported by tourism.
According to Economic Impacts of Visitors in Washington State, compiled by national travel research firm Tourism Economics on behalf of SWT, the state’s visitor volume last year increased 19.7% over 2020 to 95.3 million – indicating significant growth – but still at just 87% of 2019 levels. Visitor expenditures increased 36.2% to $17.7 billion, just 81% of 2019’s level.
In contrast to those figures, however, state and local tax revenue increased 27.6% to $2.4 billion, offsetting the average state household tax burden by $669 per year. In 2020, the household offset provided by visitors to the state was just $544.
“The Washington State visitor economy experienced a promising rebound in 2021 but still registered nearly 20% below 2019 levels,” said Adam Sacks, president of Tourism Economics. “Full recovery of the Washington travel economy will require concerted policy and marketing initiatives to capitalize on strong, pent-up demand for travel in the US.”
“We’ve seen the tremendous economic potential of tourism juxtaposed with fragility during the pandemic,” said David Blandford, SWT’s executive director. “We must ensure that our tourism industry can sustain itself, first and foremost, in order to fulfill its vital role in restoring our broader state economy.”
Economic Impacts of Visitors in Washington State compiled survey data from Longwoods International; the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Bureau of Labor Statistics by industry; STR lodging performance data; tax collections, including lodging tax receipts; US Census business sales by industry and seasonal second homes; and international travel data for overseas, Canadian and Mexican travel to the US, based on aviation, survey and credit card information.
About State of Washington Tourism
State of Washington Tourism (SWT) is a 501(c)(6) organization established by industry stakeholders with the sole mission of developing and sustaining Washington State destination tourism marketing. SWT procures and administers funds for marketing efforts and creates and implements a strategic statewide marketing plan. For more information, visit www.stateofWAtourism.com.
Sienna Spencer Markles
Public Relations, GreenRubino for State of Washington Tourism