Spokane Journal of Business

Convention bookings expected to rebound by 2025

Current activity levels off last year’s pace, but outlook is stable

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It’s been three years since COVID turned the tourism and hospitality industry upside down. That’s about 1,100 days of heartbreak, uncertainty, loss, rebuilding, and success.

Coming out of the pandemic, we knew it would take three to five years for the industry to recover and return to pre-pandemic success. We’re in that slow slog, but forward movement is better than where we were three years ago.

Post-pandemic, Spokane’s tourism and hospitality industry was robust in 2022. Tourism was strong in leisure and meetings, but business travel is still lagging.

In the convention and meetings world, demand and rescheduled conferences made for a busy 2022, but the market will be quieter in 2023. In a way, that’s a good thing. It means we’re back on track. Conferences that were canceled and rescheduled due to the pandemic increased demand in 2022. They’re done, we’re caught up, and it’s back to new business as usual.

It’s unsettling heading into 2023 when convention bookings are down, but stability is returning to the market. To make up for the lack of convention bookings this year, we are focusing on smaller groups, but every city in America struggles with the same issues. Competition is fierce, and we’re fighting hard. The disruption of COVID is behind us, and the future for conventions in Spokane will return more robust than ever. In keeping trend with the rest of the country, Spokane should exceed its all-time 2019 high by 2025.

The Visit Spokane sales team led by Ruth Fitzgerald, vice president of sales, has some big conventions booked for 2023. The Christian and Missionary Alliance will hold its annual meeting with 2,500 attendees at the Spokane Convention Center in May. The conference has an estimated economic impact of $2.8 million.

The American Indian Science & Engineering Society will hold its national convention in October. The 1,500 attendees will bring an estimated economic impact of $1.6 million.

These conferences profoundly affect the businesses in Spokane and the people who live here. Tourism matters.

As it stands now, Visit Spokane has booked $32 million in business for 2023. That number will grow. We’ll book more business before the year is over. Overall, we are looking forward to welcoming as many as 61,000 convention attendees whose contribution to our local economy is significant.

When visitors come to Spokane for conventions or leisure, they stay in our hotels and pay sales and lodging taxes. Visitors dine in our restaurants, shop, and spend money, which is all taxed. Tourism provides $958 in tax relief for every household in Spokane County. Tourism is vital.

In 2021, tourism pumped $1.2 billion into the Spokane economy and created more than 10,000 jobs. We expect to see solid numbers with the release of the 2022 numbers in May. Anecdotally, our Visitor Information Center in Riverfront Park reports it had some of its busiest days in the summer and fall of 2022. People are visiting Spokane.

Visit Spokane continues its work promoting Spokane on a national level. In 2022, the Public Relations Society of America Travel & Tourism national conference happened in Spokane. Among the hundreds of attendees, the conference brought 34 travel writers and editors for major magazines to the city for four days. The result was beautiful. National Geographic, Food & Wine magazine, Conde Nast Traveler, Passport magazine, and The Daily Beast featured Spokane. More pieces have yet to be published, but you will see them in 2023.

It is no accident when you see Spokane mentioned in magazines or on the best places lists. The mentions and media coverage are due to the pitches, hard work, and planning by Kate Hudson, Visit Spokane’s public relations manager. This strategic effort generates interest from meeting planners, leisure travelers, and businesses.

We’re happy for our cohorts at Spokane Sports. The Podium is a beautiful new asset and promotional point for Spokane and was named the best new sports venue by SportsTravel magazine in 2022. Spokane Sports predicts 113,000 visitors will attend events in 2023. We’re just as excited about the new outdoor stadium currently under construction. More venues mean more events, which means more people visiting Spokane County.

The work to bring events and visitors to Spokane is endless. Visit Spokane, works collaboratively behind the scenes with Spokane Sports and the Public Facilities District, and makes many things happen. We do this work not for recognition but because we want to see Spokane thrive. We all want to see our community become better and stronger. It is our home, after all.

We look forward to a future that surpasses pre-pandemic levels, and we’re excited for the best we know is yet to come.


Maureen Dodroe is the interim president and CEO of Visit Spokane.

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