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The 2017 solar eclipse from Cheadle Lake in Lebanon, Oregon. The eclipse was a boon for local tourism, but experts say a successful model for year-round tourism can't depend on one-time events.

Remember last year's tourism season in the mid-valley? Remember the hundreds of thousands of people who were going to flock to the area to watch the solar eclipse? Remember the lines around the block that were predicted for the opening of the Historic Albany Carousel & Museum?

Well, some of that panned out: The carousel did draw blockbuster lines for its opening last summer, and the downtown Albany attraction continues to do steady business, as it will for years. 

And there's no doubt that thousands of people flocked to the mid-valley for the spectacular solar eclipse in August, but not in the huge numbers that had been predicted. (And, yes, those predictions include several editorials we wrote in which we confidently foretold a banner year for tourism in the mid-valley.)

Then a funny thing happened: That record-shattering year for tourism in the mid-valley didn't quite materialize. 

In fact, according to a fascinating pair of stories that appeared in Monday's newspaper, summer 2017 was lackluster for tourism in the mid-valley by some measures. 

For three out of four summertime months last year, the city of Albany collected less money in transient lodging fees (the city and state taxes that are levied on top of room rental charges) than it did the previous year. The exception, of course, came in August, when hotel rooms were booked solid for the Aug. 21 eclipse: In that month, the city collected $132,000 or so from the tax, up from about $107,000 in August 2016.

The wildfires that burned through Oregon last summer were one of the factors that kept last year's tourism season from racking up record-setting numbers: Tourists might have rethought their plans to visit Oregon in the face of news reports about how the entire state had been enveloped in smoke from wildfires. That's the sort of event, with all the attendant publicity, that is outside the control of tourism officials.

It also is the sort of event that suggests the folly of building a tourism campaign around one-time events, no matter how spectacular (and they don't get much more spectacular than a total solar eclipse).

Instead, tourism officials said, the trick is to build a year-round strategy to lure visitors (and their dollars) to the mid-valley. Events at Oregon State University, such as a home football game or the Spring Family Weekend (which is this weekend, by the way) are anchors that tourism officials can build around. We would bet, by the way, that a considerable number of OSU parents will be traveling to Albany to take a spin or two on the carousel and might stay to shop or grab a bite or two.

Which raises another interesting point about mid-valley tourism: Events that bring people to Corvallis have a good impact on Albany and other mid-valley locales as well. (This works the other way as well, of course.) So it makes sense not just to develop tourism strategies at the city level, but regionally as well. Fortunately, that work is taking place.

And the mid-valley, like the rest of Oregon, has a huge potential calling card for attracting tourists: the state's tremendous inventory of outdoor recreational opportunities. Increasingly, people are checking out Oregon for a variety of outdoor activities — camping, fishing, bicycling, hiking, hunting, off-roading, motorcycling and wildlife watching, just to scratch the surface. 

And these activities are economic drivers: According to a report this year from the Outdoor Industry Association, American consumers spend a total of $887 billion every year on outdoor recreation. The mid-valley is tapping into that rich market, with help from state tourism officials. (It's no coincidence that the animated new video from Visit Oregon features outdoor vistas.)

The best thing about targeting that outdoor recreation market is that these are activities that continue, day in and day out across the mid-valley, rain or shine — even during a total solar eclipse. (mm) 


Managing Editor

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