Numbers show tourism and county’s economic health closely linked


THURSTON COUNTY –– Tourist spending in Thurston County grew more than 25 percent between 2015 and 2019 according to data released this week by Tourism Economics, a national travel research firm.  

The figures include a 6.9 percent increase in tourism spending in the county between 2018 and 2019 alone, reflecting the business that more than 3.5 million tourists brought into the county in 2019, according to a press release from Experience Olympia & Beyond. The surge in Thurston County tourism dollars far surpassed that of the state of Washington, which saw only a 4.5 percent increase in tourism spending.  

“It’s easy to get lost in the staggering numbers of our region’s past tourism growth and this current reality,” said Shauna Stewart, CEO of Experience Olympia & Beyond. “What’s important to remember is these dollars and figures have a real impact on local people.” 

After the onset of this year’s global COVID-19 pandemic, the region’s travel, tourism and hospitality industries took a hit. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport saw 93.6 percent fewer passengers in April 2020 compared to the same time in 2019, according to materials from Washington Tourism Alliance. Smith Travel Research noted a 65 percent decrease in Thurston County’s hotel stays in the same period.  

Last year, tourists in the county spent $459.5 million on hotels, restaurants, shopping, transportation and other activities, directly supporting almost 4,000 jobs county-wide. This year, the hospitality sector saw a job loss of 42 percent since March 1.   

“Tourism brings outside dollars into our community to support jobs, small business and our region’s quality of life” said Stewart. “Re-investing in tourism businesses and destination marketing is a key component to local economic recovery.”  


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