Seattle sails to tourism record


Tourism in Seattle and King County posted record numbers of visitors last year, but the trend won’t likely continue this year.

According to a new study by Seattle’s Convention and Visitors Bureau and San Diego-based CIC Research Inc., the visitor count rose 1 percent from the previous year, to a record of 9.5 million. Spending also hit an all-time high at $5.16 billion, and was up 8.6 percent from 2006.

But Seattle’s Convention and Visitors Bureau President and CEO Tom Norwalk doesn’t expect to see similar growth this year. The economy has weakened, business travel has slowed, hotel occupancy rates have declined, and convention bookings aren’t as strong this year as last.

“We’d be fortunate to be flat this year,” Norwalk said.

Seattle, however, could avoid a major drop in visitors because cruise and leisure travelers continue to book trips here, Norwalk said. The Port of Seattle projects a record 435,000 cruise passengers will come to Seattle this year. The overall U.S. cruise industry had a record year in 2007, with 500,000 more guests than the previous year, according to the Cruise Lines International Association.

In addition, Seattle continues to see a steady stream of international travelers, drawn here by the weak U.S. dollar and a slew of new flights connecting Seattle with foreign cities.

Last year, however, all elements of Seattle tourism hit new heights. Norwalk attributed the record numbers to 2007’s healthy economy and robust performances by both the cruise and convention industries.

Norwalk believes the increase in visitor spending in 2007 — which outpaced the increase in the number of overall visitors — was due in part to an increase in international visits. Foreign visitors typically stay longer and spend more, Norwalk said. U.S. Department of Commerce statistics showed a 25 percent increase in overseas visits (not including Canadians) to Seattle in 2007 from the previous year.