The travel and hospitality industry, long a major economic engine in Lane County, has made a substantial rebound as it emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Andy Vobora, Vice-President for Stakeholder Relations of Travel Lane County. In Fiscal 2020, which ended just as the pandemic exploded, the industry generated about $1 billion. While, he said, it took about a 60 percent hit during the pandemic, it is now emerging, in many cases more quickly than in other areas.
That does not mean the future is free from challenges, he added. Hotels suffered perhaps the most from the shutdown. As they begin to return, visitors will find rates have grown markedly. In addition. The room supply has sharply declined with the loss of the Valley River Inn due to fire, and decisions by Lane County to purchase some facilities, such as the former Red Lion hotel, to provide shelter for homeless residents.
In addition, the industry must deal with the typical winter trough when there are marked reductions in visitors, both in the sports area, as well as tourism in general. Travel Lane County has long supported developing a winter demand generator, such as an indoor facility that could host sporting events to help alleviate that trough as well as serve as a conference center. However, it had been anticipated that a significant portion of the Transient Lodging tax collected by Lane County would go to help support debt service on such a facility. Now, with the County considering whether to divert a significant portion to a new outdoor stadium, that revenue source might not be available for some time.
Travel Lane County uses a wide variety of approaches to try to support the industry. Most of this work is not visible to local residents, because it is directed at attracting visitors from other areas. This includes things like aggressively marketing Lane County and its offerings in the San Fracisco Bay area and other locations where they data they collect suggests that residents there could be interested in traveling to Oregon.
The organization does, however, work to create supportive programs in the area. One example Mr. Vobora pointed to is based on the realization that travelers with disabilities often have significant discretionary income, but need to find destinations that can accommodate them. One local example of that support is a grant program created by Travel Lane County which will support installation of hearing aid loops at the front desks of local hotels. The agency can fund 80 percent of that cost for an effort that has major implications for travelers with hearing challenges. Travel Lane County is also active in trying to develop uniform access information on handicapped access to trails and other facilities so that visitors can make their own determinations on what they can attempt.
In a similar fashion, the organization is working with groups in the Dexter Lake area to improve infrastructure for an internationally recognized rowing venue to stimulate even further growth. Before the pandemic hit, they were working to create information to help visitors connect that multiple bikeways in the area so that it would be easier to travel on more of them. Now that the pandemic has eased, Mr. Vobora expects that effort will be reactivated.
While the University of Oregon has a substantial program in attracting and supporting athletic events, Travel Lane County is also active in helping to support other sports, like the rowing program and volleyball programs, including a national BMX tournament.
To watch the entire presentation, please click on this link: Travel Lane County Program.