The Port of Seattle will help bankroll a $3.57 million ad campaign to lure travelers back to Washington state, hoping to repair damage done to its hospitality sector as a result of lockdown measures to control the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The money won’t be spent, Port officials assured the public at a Tuesday meeting, until travel begins picking up again. That may come when the state signals nonessential travel is safe once more, allaying travel anxieties. Public health agencies and even local tourism groups continue to advise people to stay home to control the spread of coronavirus.
“We don’t want to fish when the fish aren’t biting,” said Port tourism director Ron Peck.
The Washington Tourism Alliance, which is producing the campaign, outlined a preliminary September start date for the advertising campaign. Peck said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if that were pushed out. The alliance, he said, is relying on market research from industry groups including the U.S. Travel Association to determine when to time the camapaign, but didn’t articulate a specific trigger that would prompt its rollout.
Unemployment in the hospitality sector accounted for nearly 42% of all jobs lost statewide during the pandemic. Hotel room revenue statewide is down 72% in the three-month period from March to May, compared to the same span last year. And while traffic at Sea-Tac Airport has picked up since the severe April doldrums, it’s still averaging about a 75% reduction over last year.
The pandemic has brought the cruise industry to a near-total collapse. No cruise ships have docked in Seattle this year, nor will they. And the coronavirus has done what environmental activists could not: Citing adverse market conditions, the Port announced Tuesday it was halting plans to develop a new $200 million cruise ship berth near Pioneer Square.
Industry groups have contended the total economic losses due to declining travel from the pandemic are nine times greater than losses following the 9/11 terror attacks.
The campaign is aimed in part at getting more people through the airport, where at one point, more than half of businesses had closed their doors. But it will also try to boost travel within the state, with messaging such as “Support your neighbors, help businesses get back on their feet” and “Rediscover Washington: explore your own backyard.”
Local travel has bounced back even though the state is still advising people to “recreate locally.” More than twice the number of cars are on the roads now than the spring. And attractions like Pike Place Market are relatively crowded once more.
Public health experts have noted that while Washington has escaped the most dire predictions of what a COVID-19 onslaught could bring, the state has not suppressed the virus. Without consistent social distancing — including masks — the death toll could skyrocket by November, according to University of Washington modeling. In Europe, returning vacationers are sparking a panic about a possible second wave of the virus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that “staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from getting sick.” Local tourism-promotion agency Visit Seattle recently changed its tagline to “Visit Seattle … from a distance.”
Even if tourists begin to trickle back to Washington, it’s unclear what might be on their itineraries: Many destinations remain closed due to the coronavirus.