Spokane Journal of Business

Tourism expected to grow as big projects are finished


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-Katie Ross
The Spokane Convention Center expansion is wrapping up now and is expected to spur more convention and tourism activity.

Experts here are predicting a strong year for tourism in 2015, as the $50 million Spokane Convention Center expansion project and the new $135 million Davenport Grand Hotel near completion late this year and next year. 

Cheryl Kilday, president of Visit Spokane, says the organization is estimating that about 3.4 million people will have visited the Spokane area in 2014 by the time this year ends, a growth of between 4 percent and 5 percent over 2013. She says Visit Spokane also expects to finish 2014 with a 5 percent overall increase in group business.

Visit Spokane is predicting total visitation, including visitor spending, could grow another 4 percent in 2015, Kilday says. 

“We’re still estimating conservative … but we’re really thinking we’re going to see continued growth of 4 percent,” she says. 

Kilday also says 23 percent of the conventions that are booked for 2015 are national organizations, compared with 16 percent in 2014.

“What’s important with that is that they spend more money,” Kilday says.

Leisure travel also has held strong this year, Kilday says, and is predicted to remain so next year. 

Keith Backsen, vice president of sales for Visit Spokane, says Spokane will host the World Science Fiction Society convention in August, which is expected to draw between 5,000 and 7,000 visitors. 

Kilday says Spokane competed with Helsinki, Finland, and Orlando, Fla., for that convention. 

Also slated for next year is the 2015 international Adventist-Laymen’s Service Industries conference in August, which Backsen says should draw about 3,000 delegates, as well as a Council of Undergraduate Research conference in April, which also is expected to be about 3,000 people.

“(Eastern Washington University) was really critical in helping us woo that conference to Spokane,” Backsen says.

Matt Jensen, corporate director of sales and marketing for the Davenport Hotel Collection, which owns the Davenport Grand Hotel, says the hotel group is expecting a solid year in 2015 with the opening of the large new hotel. 

“To have a 716-room hotel opening in Spokane is a big deal,” he says. 

The hotel also will include 62,500 square feet of meeting space, Jensen says, which includes an 18,000–square-foot ballroom. 

“The majority of our meeting space is on the same level … so attendees don’t have to go up and down,” Jensen says. 

The hotel also will feature a fitness center that overlooks a second-floor restaurant terrace facing Riverfront Park, Jensen says. The hotel will have two restaurants, one that will serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The second will be an Italian-themed restaurant that focuses on dinner. 

Jensen says 2014 has been a solid year for the hotel group, in both the convention and leisure markets. 

“I think this year has been at our expectation,” he says. “The leisure market has shown some nice positive growth, both in rate and occupancy, and that has helped our overall business plan this year.”

On the sports tourism side, Eric Sawyer, president and CEO of the Spokane Sports Commission, says the organization is anxious to see how the new hotel will impact it. 

“We’re also excited about the expansion of the convention center, so all good stuff there,” he says. 

Sawyer says the commission is anticipating growth in sports tourism next year. Events slated for 2015 include games of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament in March and the Level 9 USA Gymnastics Western Championships in May. 

North Idaho also is expecting a strong year for tourism in 2015, says Katherine Coppock, manager of the Coeur d’Alene Convention & Visitor’s Bureau. Coppock says Kootenai County brought in about $56 million in lodging tax revenue through the first 10 months of 2014 and is on track to exceed 2013’s total lodging tax revenue of $68 million. Coppock says she expects that to rise in 2015 as well.

—Katie Ross

Katie Ross
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Reporter Katie Ross covers manufacturing, hospitality, and government at the Journal of Business. An outdoor enthusiast and snowboard fanatic, Katie is a recent graduate of Gonzaga University.  

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