As Seattle and King County welcome summer tourists after a long, pandemic-induced dry spell, community leaders should cultivate a new appreciation for tourism’s economic benefits while encouraging visitors to tread beyond well-beaten paths.
Small tourism and hospitality businesses have suffered devastating losses from shutdowns during the 16-month public-health emergency. These local operators are not only vital contributors to Seattle’s unique culture but also the backbone of this sector. About 80 cents of every tourist dollar goes to local operators, according to Visit Seattle President Tom Norwalk. Without a large chain’s deep pockets, many have been struggling to survive.
Seattle and the rest of King County had 41 million visitors in 2019, generating an estimated $8 billion in total economic impact, Norwalk said. Last year, the number of visitors and economic impact was slashed in half, with spending heavily concentrated in the first couple months of the year.
As tourism rebounds, the region has a chance thoughtfully to guide the sector’s growth in a way that benefits visitors, business owners and residents.
Visit Seattle’s “I Know a Place” campaign, highlighting neighborhoods, small businesses and unique cultural attractions that haven’t traditionally received their share of tourists’ attention, is an excellent move in that direction.
Sure, tourists should still check out the Space Needle and stroll through Pike Place Market, but the Emerald City has so much more to share. Rent a bike from a shop like Pedal Anywhere Seattle and watch the sunset at South Lake Union, or spend an afternoon at West Seattle’s Lincoln Park.
Itineraries developed by locals like chef Monica Dimas and Intentionalist founder Laura Clise shine a well-deserved spotlight on Seattle’s culturally and ethnically diverse local businesses.
Rebuilding Seattle’s robust and multifaceted pre-pandemic tourism ecosystem, with its mix of leisure, business, convention and international visitors, will take time. International and business travel could take a year or more to rebound. In the meantime, Seattle will be competing for leisure visitors that other West Coast cities also are hungry to attract.
Focusing a spotlight on some of Seattle’s hidden gems sets our city apart while giving neighbors and small businesses a much-needed boost.