By TED TAYLOR
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS
Visitors are slowly but surely making their way back to Central Oregon, but numbers won’t return to “normal” any time soon, tourism and airport officials said Wednesday.
And while locals longing for a tourist-free summer might rejoice, the decline in out of towners could lead to budget reductions impacting police, fire and street maintenance.
Kevney Dugan, CEO of Visit Bend, said in a conference call with Bend and Redmond city leaders that occupancy rates in July are expected be about half of what they usually are.
On top of that, hoteliers and resorts have slashed rates to encourage more visitors, he said.
Rooms that cost $180 a night last year over Memorial Day weekend, cost $100 this year.
“We might see an uptick in visitor volume, but from the revenue side, it will be a much longer row to hoe,” Dugan said, adding that Central Oregon typically attracts about 4.3 million visitors per year.
Visit Bend was on pace to record about $11.5 million in hotel room tax. Those numbers now are closer to $6.5 million.
Redmond expects a $320,000 reduction on room tax revenue as well.
“There are multiple indicators out there now about the need to get this industry back on its feet,” Dugan said. “Not just for jobs, but also for the general fund dollars that a city then leans on to hire police and fire staff or put in lane miles.”
Bend City Manager Eric King said tourism revenue makes up about 12 percent of the city’s $219 million budget, which is why it’s important Visit Bend continues to attract visitors in a responsible way.
“It is significant,” King said of tourism’s impact on the city budget. “We need to be really thoughtful about how we rebuild our local economy and do that in a safe way.”
Dugan said his agency has ramped up its marketing efforts but was consulting with health officials to determine the best places to target.
Multnomah County, for example, hasn’t even met the health requirements to enter Phase 1 yet so Dugan said they have no interest in attracting Portlanders to Central Oregon.
“The ring around Portland is not an area we are are going to be in currently, which is a bummer, because that is a key feeder market to our tourism industry,” Dugan said, adding they were looking at smaller markets like Hood River and others along the I-5 corridor.
Redmond Airport Director Zach Bass said airline travel to and from the region is increasing as well.
The 700 passengers over Memorial Day weekend was the highest number since the pandemic started, “and it’s continued every day since.”
The number of flights has increased too, from four per day to 13. Still, numbers are at 20 percent of normal for this time of year.
And while Dugan said things might be closer to normal next June or July, Bass said the airline industry won’t bounce back so quickly.
“Some of this is a guess, but right now we’re estimating we won’t be back to pre COVID levels at least until 2023 if not longer,” Bass said.