by Erik Knoder
Visitor spending rose to $1.56 billion in Northwest Oregon in 2018. This was an increase of 1.4 percent from 2017. Visitor spending has been increasing since 2011. The growth in 2018 was more than in 2017 but slower than in preceding years. Slower growth in an industry is typical as an economic expansion matures, and growth in visitor spending has been slowing since 2014.
Leisure and hospitality is the largest industry sector in Northwest Oregon. It provided nearly 16,700 payroll jobs on an annual average basis in 2018. This was about 17 percent of all jobs (excluding self employment) in Benton, Clatsop, Columbia, Lincoln, and Tillamook counties combined. The two largest parts of the sector are the accommodation industry (e.g., motels and campgrounds), and the food services and drinking places industry (e.g., restaurants and bars). The industry’s health depends in large part on spending by visitors.
Visitors also spend money in other industries such as retail trade, transportation, and even health services when vacation accidents happen. But because visitors account for a smaller portion of spending in these industries, the leisure and hospitality sector is considered the bellwether for tourism.
Visitor spending peaked in 2006 at $1.32 billion (2018 dollars), and then fell 2 percent the next year. It was up and down during the recession and recovery. It was $1.26 billion in 2011 and has climbed since then. Fuel prices are one of the factors that influence whether visitors come to the area.
Gas prices averaged about $2.95 per gallon for all grades along the west coast in 2017. They rose to an average of $3.38 per gallon in 2018. Prices are often lower in the winter, but rise during the prime tourist season. The average price in 2019 through October has been $3.40 per gallon. Although this increased costs for most visitors, job and wage growth continued in 2019 and probably gave many people confidence to take a vacation.
With visitor spending increasing and fuel costs still below earlier peak levels, we would expect to see employment in the leisure and hospitality industry continuing to expand, and that’s what is happening. The five counties in northwest Oregon combined to add 549 (+3.4%) leisure and hospitality payroll jobs in 2018. Benton County added 78 jobs in leisure and hospitality, Clatsop County added 253, Lincoln County gained 152, and Tillamook County plumped for 66 jobs. Columbia County’s leisure and hospitality employment was unchanged from 2017 to 2018.
Complete records aren’t available for 2019 yet, but preliminary estimates indicate that about 380 more jobs are being added this year in leisure and hospitality in the five counties. This matches the slower employment growth experienced overall in the economy in 2019.