BEND, OR -- Summer is coming, and with it, even more tourists. According to the Central Oregon Visitors Association (COVA), 4.9 million people visited the High Desert in 2018, and the year over year numbers are even healthier so far, in 2019.
COVA President and CEO Julia Theisen says February's weather doesn't seem to have slowed things, "Overall, we actually had a really strong winter. From all the numbers, it looks like the snowstorm didn't really affect tourism in any negative way. There might've been some delays or some other change of plans, but the numbers are really strong."
Theisen says Central Oregon is its own draw for tourists. They don't need a big event, like the eclipse, in order to want to visit, "The summer remains strong. I think it's just a collaborative effect of a lot of great events and a lot of great activities here." She tells KBND News, "One measure of success is our TRT revenue. And in Deschutes County, which is the unincorporated part, excluding the city of Bend, we're year-to-date up 7.5%; and within the City of Bend, year-to-date they're up 9.5%." TRT is the transient room tax collected by hotels and resorts.
She acknowledges all those visitors come at a price. Most tourists come to visit the outdoors, and Theisen says that can take a toll on natural landscapes. But, she adds, local agencies are working to mitigate the negative aspects of high usage and there are benefits. Thousands of them, in fact, "Tourism, ultimately, is a great thing for our region. In terms of job creation, it's over 9,000 jobs annually created out of tourism; and great economic impacts. So, I think it's just balancing some of the positives and some of the challenges we have with tourism, and keeping it positive." According to Theisen, visitors spent $1.28 billion in Central Oregon in 2018.