‘Great things on the horizon’: Spokane tourism bouncing back from pandemic

SPOKANE, Wash. — 2020 was a rough year for tourism and hospitality businesses, but in 2021, things bounced back and businesses are experiencing that surge.

The Inland Northwest summer is here, and more visitors will be enjoying the weather as Fairchild Air Force Base is hosting the 2022 Women’s Military International World Cup for the next two weeks. The games will be played at Union Stadium in Mead.

“This will be the largest women’s military world cup in the history of the women’s world cup for the military. We have ten countries coming, the most they’ve ever had before was nine,” said Lt. Col. Jeremiah Kirschman, who is also the tournament director.

Kirschman says they were notified Spokane was chosen in October to host the tournament.

“Spokane was chosen because they knew we had great community support. We were also chosen because we had the facilities to host an event like this,” he said. “We’re very excited to host this in the Inland Northwest and to share this with the community.”

Families of those coming into town will be staying in city hotels, generating more money for the local economy.

Businesses like Cochinito Taqueria continue to see more visitors, as well.

“We’re seeing a lot more new faces who we haven’t seen before, staying at the hotels around for conferences and stuff like that. I think it’s definitely trending back upward which is a good thing,” said Cochinito co-owner and chef Travis Dickinson.

Dickinson is glad events are back in full swing. Being located in downtown, they were able to experience Hoopfest once again. He was happy to see people back out on the streets, enjoying the beloved tradition.

“We just missed it,” he said. “You miss being in the downtown core, the vibe, the happiness and stuff going on around you.”

Tourism had its strongest year in 2019, with visitors spending $2.1 billion in the area. In 2020, it went down to $880 million. However, last year Visit Spokane says tourism came back about 87 percent from 2019 numbers, with visitors spending $1.3 billion. That money being spent helps those who live here. Visitors are spending money in local stores, businesses and hotels.

“Their taxes stay locally. What happens is the taxes go into the general fund, go to each county, city that we represent within the county as well,” said Meg Winchester, the CEO for Visit Spokane. “That brings down the taxes that people have to pay to live in our region. The more money we’re able to bring in, people come in, spend money and go home.”

While Visit Spokane felt 2021 was a good year coming back from the pandemic, it thinks things will only go up from here with more events booked throughout the year. There are nearly 20 different conventions coming through the Lilac City this year, events coming in right after the other.

“A lot of it was due to people pushing it back and weren’t able to have it,” Winchester said. “That’s been remarkable for us.”

When Paul McCartney came through town to kick off his Got Back tour, Visit Spokane said that generated nearly $3 million.

“This year is looking fantastic for us,” she said.

As for businesses like Cochinito Taqueria, Dickinson said 2022 will be a much better year than 2021. He said they had the highest sales volume year in 2021 since opening more than four years ago. This year, they’re already seeing even more people come in.

“I think there’s great things on the horizon,” Dickinson added. “I think there’s a lot of growth coming and a lot of good reasons to come here and visit or enjoy downtown if you already live here.”

READ: Report shows tourism is recovering in Spokane area