Oregon tourism

These are the top five visitor destinations in Oregon, ranked by visitor dollars spent.

Portland Region: $5.1 billion

Oregon Coast: $1.9 billion

Willamette Valley: $1.8 billion

Southern: $1.1 billion

Central: $903 million

Source: Dean Runyan Associates

More visitors than ever coming to Oregon have boosted room-tax collection and created more jobs in the process, according to a report released at this year’s three-day Governor’s Conference on Tourism held in Bend.

Statewide, the tourism industry employed more than 112,000 people last year, a 2.2-percent increase over 2016 and the sixth consecutive year of employment growth in the industry, according to a report prepared by Dean Runyan Associates. In Central Oregon, the industry employed about 9,400 people, a 1.5-percent increase over 2016.

“These kinds of job numbers mean travel and tourism is creating a better life,” said Todd Davidson, Oregon Tourism Commission CEO. “These are strong, sustainable, local economic indicators.”

Visitors spent a record $903 million, making the Central Oregon area the fifth most-visited location in Oregon behind Southern Oregon, according to the report.

Statewide direct visitor spending rose 4.7 percent, from $11.3 billion in 2016 to $11.8 billion in 2017, according to the report.

This is the eighth straight year of visitor growth, said Davidson, after speaking to a roomful of tourism officials at the Riverhouse on the Deschutes conference center on Tuesday.

In Central Oregon, Deschutes County saw larger increases then other counties, said Alana Hughson, CEO of the Central Oregon Visitors Association.

The growth will continue, but at a slower pace, into 2019, Hughson said. That’s because the current volatility in the marketplace as a whole. Travel, which is considered discretionary spending, tends to be cut from budgets during these kinds of economic periods, Hughson said.

Deschutes County received $3.5 million in transient room tax in 2010 and $6.3 million in 2016, according to data provided by the Central Oregon Visitors Association.

“Tourism and travel is an industry that is a stepping stone to other jobs,” Hughson said. “Seasonal jobs allow people to move up. There’s a strong upward career path.”

Oregon doesn’t need to grow the number of visitors arriving, but tourism officials say they need to focus on getting people to stay longer and do more activities, Davidson said.

“Spending drives economic development and creates jobs,” Davidson said. “We want to encourage more spending and longer visits, not more visitors.”

Visitors to Central Oregon spent an average of 3.4 nights at hotels, motels or short-term vacation rentals, according to the report. Statewide, the stays are slightly shorter at 2.5 nights at hotels, motels or short-term vacation rentals, according to the report.

“Visitors who stay longer tend to spend more in the community they’re visiting,” Hughson said. “That trickles down as the success of the visitor industry expands, and it’s a direct correlation to jobs and economic impact.”

— Reporter: 541-633-2117, sroig@bendbulletin.com