Tourism is big business in Seattle and the volume of visitors grew strongly in 2014. One challenge to future growth is the capacity of the Washington State Convention Center.

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With the passion of the convert, I keep telling people how cold and rainy Seattle is year-round, the better to keep outsiders from coming here and ruining our emerald idyll. It’s not working. Last year, tourism as measured by overnight visitor volumes in the city and county increased by 3.7 percent to 19.2 million. Nationally, overnight visits increased 3 percent compared with the previous year.

The data come from the research outfit Tourism Economics and were released today by Visit Seattle, the nonprofit tourism marketing organization. The numbers mark a new record, surpassing the previous peak in 2007 before the recession.

Jet City, Tech City, Coffee City sure, but tourism is big business here, too. It further enhances the diversified economy.

Last year visitors spent $6.4 billion in Seattle and King County. That’s an increase of 6.4 percent. Travel- and tourism-related jobs totaled 70,640, up 4.4 percent from 2013. Hotel occupancy rates increased 3 percent and average room rates rose nearly 10 percent. Tourists also paid $643 million in state and local taxes, an increase of 7.6 percent.

Another component of growth was international, up 4 percent. This global cohort makes up 8.2 percent of Seattle’s total visitor volume but accounts for 18 percent of total spending by visitors. (According to the U.S. Commerce Department, Seattle was the 16th most popular destination for international travelers in 2013, up 15 percent).

The convention business grew, too, but constraints in size are being felt at the Washington State Convention Center. Over the past five years, more than 300 conventions were turned away because space wasn’t available on the dates requested. Visit Seattle estimates that was nearly $1.6 billion in future business. The convention center is only 56th in size nationally, although expansion is being prepared.

Meanwhile, the Port of Seattle kicked off cruise season earlier this month. It expects 192 cruise ship calls and more than 895,000 revenue passengers. Seattle leads all cruise homeports in the West Coast in business, with seven cruise companies operating ships from here. The cruise sector supports 3,600 jobs and accounts for $441 million in annual business revenue.

Not bad for a place where it rains every day and is cold as heck.


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