Travel and Tourism Spending Growing: Yet a Little Behind the State per Capita Benchmark

By Scott Richter and Dr. Patrick Jones

As the old saying goes, “When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money.” While this is probably more necessary the farther someone travels from home, it also reflects on how traveling, tourism, and vacationing is more expensive than staying home even when the distance is relatively short.

It’s no surprise then that tourism is often an important part of a community's local economy. Tourism goods and services are, by definition, purchased by people from outside the community, so their spending represents new dollars injected into the local economy.

The money is “new” in the sense if people did not stop for gas, lodging, or a meal (or any of the travel purposes listed further in this article) it basically would leave goods and services unsold locally. If not here, travelers and tourists will very likely still purchase gas, lodging, and meals, but elsewhere.

While tourism is an important part of a local economy, it is more transient than most sectors like manufacturing. Local manufacturers might be impacted by market factors from anywhere in the world they sell their products, and less impacted by the local economy. In other words, tourism is always selling local.

The best measure of the success of a community's efforts to increase general tourism is the total expenditures on hotel/motel stays, restaurants, transportation, retail shopping, tours, campground visits, museum visits, etc. Although growing, tourism is a competitive market.  Campaigns are important tools to attract travelers or tourists to our area, and their money.

Looking at Indicator 1.2.1, Total Direct Travel and Tourism Spending & Spending per Capita, we see in Benton and Franklin Counties combined, annual spending has increased nearly every year in the series. This is true for total travel and tourism spending, as well as travel and tourism spending per capita.

Purpose of travel counted in this indicator include all reasons, including for business, pleasure, shopping, business meetings, medical, education, and personal. 

Visitors are classified by the type of accommodations they purchase. Hotels, motels, B&B’s, campgrounds, private homes (staying with friends or relatives), vacation homes, and day travelers (not purchasing overnight accommodations).

Spending in the following categories are included: accommodations, food & beverage service, recreation, transportation, and all other visitor related commodities. Spending must occur in the destination county. Detailed methodology can be found here (see Appendix A starting on page 53).

More specifically, during 2018, direct travel and tourism spending in:

  • Benton & Franklin Counties combined was $672.1 million, increasing from $282.8 million, or by 137.7% since 2000.
  • Benton County was $409 million, increasing from $182.1 million, or by 125% since 2000 (view individual counties on trends website or download data below).
  • Franklin County was $263.1 million, increasing from $100.7 million, or by 161% since 2000.
  • Washington State was $24.425 billion, increasing from $11.484 billion, or by 113% since 2000 (Direct Travel and Tourism Spending - click to download data).

During 2018, the per capita amount of direct travel and tourism spending in:

  • Benton & Franklin Counties combined was $2,318, increasing from $1,488, or by 55.8% since 2000.
  • Benton County was $2,072, increasing from $1,278, or by 62% since 2000.
  • Franklin County was $2,843, increasing from $2,114, or by 35% since 2000.
  • Washington State was $3,288, increasing from $1,948, or by 69 since 2000.

While the coronavirus will certainly affect this indicator when we see the 2020 data in a few years, one bright side is people are still travelling even if a little less than before. While important, Benton and Franklin Counties have economies not heavily dependent on travel and tourism perhaps helping with the overall economic recovery compared to less diversified economies.