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TITANS of TOURISM

by MADISON HARDY
Staff Writer | March 12, 2021 1:08 AM

COEUR d'ALENE — Idaho’s tourism industry boasts one of the fastest recoveries in the nation, and the Panhandle region is leading the way. 

During the 2021 Idaho Tourism Virtual Tourism Statewide Industry Meeting on Thursday, members of the Idaho Travel Council and representatives from the Idaho Department of Commerce spoke on recovery after a year of pandemic upheaval. 

Region One, the five Panhandle counties, saw a 7.4% increase in tourism revenue from January 2020 to January 2021, only 3.4% less than what the area saw from 2019 to 2020.

Compared to other areas around Idaho, Region One is the leader in revenue this fiscal year — followed by Region Six, in the southeast part of the state, at a 4.1% uptick.

“From what we can see from our website and campaign media data, visitation to the Coeur d’Alene and Sandpoint/Lake Pend Oreille areas have been among the most visited destinations in the state,” said Matt Borud, marketing and innovation administrator for the Idaho Department of Commerce. 

Looking at past reports, Borud said Region One had outperformed regional collections year-over-year since September.

As a whole, the Idaho Department of Commerce originally projected a 28% decline in the state’s 2% lodging tax collections — which is accumulated by all hotels, motels, private campgrounds, RV parks, bed-and-breakfasts, and vacation rentals. Typically, Borud said, the Idaho Department of Commerce and Idaho Travel Council use these projections to fund the state program and grant opportunities.

However, much to the department’s relief, the tax revenue is down only about 9% — faring 19% better than expected. 

“I think that number is actually going to decrease even further,” Borud said. “I wouldn't be surprised if statewide we’re down more in the 5% to 6% range.”

To get to 6% would require what Borud called a “pretty big jump” this spring season — which is atypical for Idaho. Historically the biggest collection months are June through October, he said, with December through May being lower.

The Department of Commerce doesn’t usually see substantial percentage swings following the holiday season. However, the loosening of COVID-19 restrictions might change that. 

“Travel has been turned on its head the last 12 months, and we’ve seen stronger than forecast demand since mid-2020,” Borud said. “I don’t know what is going to happen, but the way we keep beating some of our forecast numbers, I think we’ll finish the year better than we’re positioned now.”

A buoy for the state’s travel industry has been vacation rentals and nontraditional lodging partnerships like Airbnbs — up 23% from previous years. The growing availability of these kinds of rentals began in mid-2017, when many Idahoans listed their homes or second homes for the solar eclipse, Borud said, and it hasn’t slowed down since. 

“If visitation to the state continues to grow, I would expect the number of available properties to continue to grow, but it would at some point seem we’d hit a ceiling,” he noted. “I can’t say exactly how that’s going to play out.”

Nationally, Idaho’s performance is well above average and outpacing most states across the country, Borud told listeners. Since the start of COVID-19’s spread throughout America until December 2020, the US Travel Association released weekly visitor spending reports. Each week Idaho was in the top 10 states in year-over-year spending, and there were several times the state ranked first in the nation.

Recently changing back to monthly reports, Idaho is still the No. 1 state for visitor spending. 

“These numbers have shown us Idaho’s wide-open spaces and outdoor adventure have been the kind of place and activities travelers have wanted and needed over the last year,” Borud said. “We all know we have a great product in Idaho, but many others who may not have considered Idaho for a vacation did last year and hopefully will again in the future.”

photo

BILL BULEY/Press

A boat cruises toward The Coeur d'Alene Resort marina while a mist settles over the area Thursday morning.