As Travel Oregon seeks to grow the share of tourism spending by foreigners, the agency is heaping praise on the Central Oregon Visitors Association for landing a conference of international golf tour operators.

An estimated 400 people who work in the golf tourism industry will gather at Sunriver Resort in June 2018 for the International Association of Golf Tour Operators’ North American convention, said Alana Hughson, CEO of the Central Oregon Visitors Association. The association’s membership includes 645 tour operators from 61 countries, who claim to control 87 percent of the bookings in international golf travel.

Many of the conference attendees will spend seven to 10 nights in Oregon, exploring golf courses and attractions around the state, Hughson said. Travel Oregon, which helped COVA land the conference, thinks those tour operators will return to their home states and countries enthusiastic about selling vacation packages in Oregon, Travel Oregon CEO Todd Davidson said.

Foreign travel is particularly lucrative because those visitors tend to spend more nights and more money here, Davidson said. Chinese visitors, for example, have the highest rate of spending in Oregon — an average of $6,000 per person per trip, he said. But foreign visitors accounted for only 12 percent of the $9.8 billion spent by tourists in Oregon last year, he said.

Travel Oregon gave COVA the International Sales and Development Award because it landed the golf tour operators conference.

“We know there will be that benefit to the state,” Davidson said.

COVA helps arrange what’s known in the travel industry as “familiarization” trips for international tour operators year-round, but those usually involve only a few people at a time, Hughson said.

Hosting the golf tour operators is going to be a “fairly massive planning and production process,” she said.

Damon Runberg, regional economist for the Oregon Employment Department, said tourism acts like a traded-sector industry because most of the money is spent by outsiders.

In addition, cities like Bend have seen spinoff effects as tourists decide to move here and bring their businesses and jobs with them, he said. “There’s a lot of value to it,” he said.

From a national perspective, foreign tourists are important because they inject new dollars into the economy, Runberg said, but at the local level, it doesn’t matter where the dollars originate. What is important is developing new markets, he said.

Europe is Oregon’s biggest overseas market for golf-related travel, according to Travel Oregon, but there’s potential to attract more Chinese, Japanese and Korean tourists.

The International Association of Golf Tour Operators is gathering this year in Miami, but members’ enthusiasm for visiting Oregon in 2018 appears to be stoked, Hughson said. The initial attendance estimate grew from 200 to 400 after the conference location was announced to members, she said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7860,