Spokane Journal of Business

Convention, sports tourism to see strong growth in Spokane

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This year has turned out better than expected in terms of the number of groups and conventions, and 2019 is shaping up to be an even bigger year for Spokane tourism, says TJ Hake, interim president and CEO at Visit Spokane.

While Hake was unable to provide 2018 figures, the Journal’s annual Market Fact Book shows that 3.83 million people visited Spokane in 2017, spending a total of $895.2 million. Convention and event attendee spending for 2017 totaled $92.1 million. 

“We’re going to finish up the year booking more business this year than we ever have before, for future years,” Hake says. “From a convention standpoint, 2019 is expected to be much better than 2018. At least 16 citywide conventions, which use two or more hotels plus convention center space, are booked for 2019, which is just about double what we’ve averaged the last handful of years.”

Spokane Sports Commission President and CEO Eric Sawyer says 2018 was a strong year for sports tourism. The organization expects to see more than 60,000 hotel stays generated by sporting events by the end of the year, an increase of 15 percent compared with hotel stays generated in 2017, Sawyer says.

“We’ve seen a pretty consistent growth in sports travel through Spokane,” Sawyer says. “It’s a trend that we’ve seen, and it doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon. We’re pacing to probably be up again about 10 or 15 percent (next year).” 

Spokane had “a banner year” in terms of hosting national championship events, Sawyer says, including a series of martial arts events in June. That trend will continue in 2019, he says. 

Spokane will host the National Roller Sports Championship over four weeks in July and August, which Sawyer says will bring in 3,000 athletes and 5,400 visitors, with an economic impact of $11.2 million. 

Spokane will also host the USA Gymnastics Junior Olympic Level 9 Western Championships in May. That event is expected to attract 1,200 visitors, in addition to 450 athletes, and is estimated to provide an economic impact of $1.7 million. 

“We’re really being discovered in some ways that I’ve never seen in my tenure here,” Sawyer says. “We’re being identified as a strong market for a category of sports.”

Matt Jensen, corporate director of sales and marketing for the Davenport Hotel Collection, says 2018 has been a good year, but for 2019, he says, “Hang onto your hats.”

“Spokane has been averaging between seven and 10 conventions a year; next year, we have 16 conventions coming to Spokane,” Jensen says.

Some of the largest groups slated to hold events in Spokane in 2019 include the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society, World Wide Group, and Lions Clubs International. 

The Davenport Grand, which opened in 2015, is now seeing strong growth in the convention market, Jensen says.

“With larger groups and conventions, it’ll take three or four years to really book and layer in a lot of that convention business,” Jensen says. “We’re now seeing some of the fruits of our labors in 2019.”

Jensen says the Davenport Hotel Collection saw a revenue increase of about 12 percent in 2018, and he expects to see revenue continue to grow next year.

Virginia Thomas
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Reporter Virginia Thomas has worked at the Journal since 2017 and covers the banking and finance industries. As a reporter, she loves learning about Spokane's many growing industries. She enjoys travelling with her husband, snuggling with her cats, and cross stitching.

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