May 31, 2023

Becky Mandelbaum
Visit Bellingham | Whatcom County
360.671.3990 ext 208

Economic Data Shows Significant Rise in Visitor Spending in Whatcom County in 2022, Revealing Recovery in Tourism

Annual direct travel spending in Whatcom County rebounded to $688.3M in 2022, up 30.5% from 2021 and surpassing pre-pandemic spending in 2019 ($555M). In an industry that previously grew on average 4.7% per year, 2022’s significant growth reveals the opportunity for even greater recovery in the years ahead.

Recent data released by Tourism Economics shows that the economic impact of direct visitor spending regained momentum in Whatcom County last year, increasing 30.5% from 2021 to 2022 to an annual total of $688.3M. The study, prepared for State of Washington Tourism, tracks visitors to the region, their associated spend in five categories, and industry jobs by sector.

Fig A: Breakdown of direct travel spending in Whatcom County in 2022 


Fig B: View of total travel spending by sector across four years revealing continued post-pandemic recovery 

Fig C: Changes in visitor spending by sector and employment numbers  

While 2022’s $688.3M in spending surpasses the level of spending seen in 2019 ($555M), the increase doesn’t replace losses seen in 2020 and 2021. Yet, the dramatic increase in direct visitor spending between 2021 and 2022 reveals the growth opportunity for this year and future years’ visitor activities.  

When direct visitor spending for 2022 is separated into the five industry categories, the recovery rates vary. Whatcom’s transportation sector (including local and air transportation) showed the largest spending increase of 41.3% over 2021 after the pandemic stalled travel and caused a 43% year-over-year decline in 2020. Food and beverage, recreation and attractions, and retail all increased 20-22% from 2021. Accommodations also rebounded, increasing 16.7% over 2021 and surpassing 2019 levels. Spending in all five industry categories surpassed 2019’s pre-pandemic levels, driven by real spending increases as well as inflationary pressure.  

“Though inflation certainly played a role in these increases, the rebound throughout the industry is a testament to people’s desire and willingness to travel even during times of economic precarity,” said Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism President & CEO Dylan Deane-Boyle.  

While staffing shortages continue to affect the travel and hospitality industry, the 2022 growth rate reveals continued recovery. Total jobs related to the tourism industry in Whatcom County grew 38.8% over 2021 to a total of 7,676 jobs; it’s possible this rise in staffing contributed to some sectors’ overall recovery.  

Additional study data shows that the average per-person value of an overnight traveler increased from $73 in 2021 to $85 in 2022, with a per trip impact for one traveler of $317, up from $277 in 2021Considering the impact for an entire overnight travelling party, the per-day impact was $287, with a total trip value of $1,071. 

“These numbers tell a clear story about the essential role of tourism in Bellingham and Whatcom County. Overnight visitor groups to our area inject more than $1,000 per trip into our local economy, supporting local jobs and directly contributing almost $26 million in local tax revenue that helps fund the resources and amenities that make life in Whatcom County so rich,” said Deane-Boyle. “When we attract visitors to our area, we all win—that’s the core of everything we do here at Visit Bellingham and why we’re committed to helping tourism in Whatcom County continue to recover, grow, and thrive.” 

More information on efforts to support visitor spending and economic recovery through tourism can be found in Visit Bellingham | Whatcom County’s annual report. You can view the report here. 

Visit Bellingham | Whatcom County is an independent, 501 (c)(6) nonprofit economic development organization whose purpose is to improve the economy by marketing Bellingham Whatcom County as a premier, year-round visitor, sports, outdoor recreation, arts and cultural, and meetings destination, which supports all travel, tourism, and hospitality businesses and nonprofits in Whatcom County.  

        We acknowledge that Whatcom County is located on the unceded territory of the Coast Salish Peoples. They cared for the lands that included what we’d call the Puget Sound region, Vancouver Island and British Columbia since time immemorial. This gives us the great obligation and opportunity to learn how to care for our surrounding areas and all the natural and human resources we require to live. We express our deepest respect and gratitude for our indigenous neighbors, the Lummi Nation and Nooksack Tribe, for their enduring care and protection of our shared lands and waterways.
Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism
Visitor Center Located at I-5 Exit 253 - Check Hours
904 Potter Street, Bellingham, WA 98229
Phone: 360-671-3990

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