Spokane Journal of Business

The Journal’s View: Sports-travel industry is boosting tourism comeback


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As the Spokane economy looks to recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the return of the especially hard-hit tourism and hospitality industry is being boosted by the sports-travel sector, which is on a roll and gaining momentum.

It’s part of a national trend, in which the sports-related travel will be an important driver of economic recovery, according to consulting company Tourism Economics.

Fortunately, Spokane, the home of Bloomsday and Hoopfest, is well positioned to be in the forefront of that trend as sports organizers here have excelled at nurturing and attracting local, regional, and national sporting events.

As recently announced by the Spokane Sports Commission, the 2022 USA Karate National Championships will be held here next summer. Besides the athletes, the event will bring in 2,500 spectators and result in 3,000 overnight hotel stays, generating $4 million for the Spokane economy, according to the Spokane Sports Commission’s estimates.

Also coming to Spokane in 2022 is the Great Northwest Athletic Conference indoor track and field championships, with commitments to return the following two years.

The 2022 GNAC event will be followed by the USA Track & Field Indoor Championships, which is expected to attract over 400 athletes and 8,000 spectators, generating more than 2,000 overnight hotel stays.

Those regionally and nationally significant events will be held in the new Podium indoor sports complex on the North Bank, which is drawing interest from sports organizations throughout the country.

While the Podium is the area’s newest sports facility to help showcase Spokane, pent-up demand is behind the overall industry comeback, says Eric Sawyer, Spokane Sports Commission president and CEO.

Other major sports-travel events returning to Spokane next year include the Pacific Northwest Qualifier volleyball tournament, the Washington Middle School Basketball Championship, and the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball regional rounds.

With pre-pandemic 2019 setting a strong benchmark for sports-related spending, Sawyer predicts 2022 will be 20% stronger.

So far, 45 sporting events are on the books that have committed to come to Spokane in 2022, which the commission projects will have a $53 million economic impact.

As more people have become vaccinated, allowing most restrictions to be eased, the return of the sports-traveling public, especially youth teams and families, has been even higher than anticipated, Sawyer says. They’re looking for sites and opportunities to take to the courts and fields. And it’s not always about winning or losing, but it’s often more about families being able to participate once again in social activities.

As our community emerges from the effects of the pandemic, the return of sporting events looks to be a harbinger of economic recovery, fueling confidence in overall tourism and hospitality as entertainment and business conventions make a comeback behind them.

As Sawyer says, sporting events and related publicity can project positive images of our community as the thriving city it is, with a high quality of life and worthy of investment.

The good news is welcome.

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