The total solar eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017 was a boon for local businesses, with visitors booking every hotel room in the area, eating in restaurants, filling up on gas and spending their money in other ways.
But one day, however spectacular, doesn’t make a tourist season, and mid-Willamette Valley industry experts expect this summer to eclipse the warm months of last year.
“You can’t build a sustainable tourism model around big, one-time splashes,” said Curtis Wright, interim executive director of Visit Corvallis, the tourism bureau that serves the city.
Far more important are annual events, such as college football games or other special weekends at Oregon State University.
The general feel of a town or region, including the dining scene, shopping and other attractions, also is critical, tourism experts said.
“That’s something that will get them to stay for longer,” said Rebecca Bond, interim executive director for the Albany Visitors Association.
Despite the economic power of the eclipse — and the opening of the Albany Historic Carousel & Museum, another major impact — summer 2017 was lackluster for tourism in the mid-valley by some measures.
And that could be in large part due to smoky conditions that plagued much of Oregon, including Albany and Corvallis.
“People in general weren’t making trips to Oregon because they thought the whole state was on fire,” said Christy Luehring, director of sales and marketing for the Best Western Plus Prairie Inn in Albany.
The city of Albany collected less in transient lodging tax dollars from hotels, motels and the like in June, July and September than it did in those months in 2016, according to city figures.
In August, however, the city of Albany gathered about $132,000 in transient lodging tax money, up from $107,000 in August 2016.
Corvallis’ lodging occupancy rate of 65.5 percent for August 2017 was actually slightly lower than August 2016, Wright said. “Aug. 21 was just one day in the month,” he added. Hoteliers, however, were able to charge more money in the days around the eclipse.
Over the years, transient lodging tax funds collected by Corvallis and Albany have increased.
Corvallis collected $1.75 million in transient lodging tax money in fiscal 2017, up 41.5 percent from 2012. In the same five-year time span, Albany’s transient lodging tax collections jumped 55 percent to $1.08 million. (These transient lodging taxes are added to the rental rates lodging establishments charge.)
The increased tax collections are in part due to families feeling financially stable, Luehring said.
“The economy is getting better. More people are traveling,” she said.
Hotel prices also have gone up due to increased demand, Luehring added.
Promoting the state
More money also is being spent on promoting tourism statewide, such as a recent anime-style advertisement from Travel Oregon.
“When you have an army of people promoting tourism in the state of Oregon, that makes a difference,” Luehring said.
Some of the local transient lodging tax funds go to tourism promotion, including online media, trade show exhibits, meetings, tours and more, Wright said.
“What helps extend the positive impact of all those efforts is when all of those who live here reach out via social media and tell others what we know — this is a great place to be,” Wright added.
While Corvallis has been viewed positively by tourists for decades, Albany’s reputation is growing.
Bond said Albany’s increase in lodging tax funding comes partly from word spreading about improvements such as downtown renovations, new and vibrant restaurants and microbreweries, free concerts and the carousel, which has gotten nationwide press.
There’s also a sense that Corvallis and Albany are being recognized as appealing small-town home-bases for Oregon adventures. Both cities are roughly an hour from Portland, Eugene, the coast and the Cascades.
Big events, including one-time happenings, still can make a difference — and in some instances can turn into local fixtures.
Tourism officials try and draw such events, and have had some success.
For this summer, Albany attracted a tandem bike rally in late June and early July, as well as the Black Sheep Gathering, a celebration of handcrafted fibers and the animals that produce them. That event will switch from Lane County to the Linn County Fair & Expo Center this summer.
The Special Olympics Oregon Summer Games will be held in Corvallis for the second straight year, and attracts around 2,000 athletes and their families.
“All the attention around a big event has long-term benefits, too, by generating new awareness that helps lead to future visits,” Wright said.
The eclipse was viewed as such an opportunity in both Corvallis and Albany.
The next big opportunity could be the world track and field championships in Eugene in the summer of 2021. That’s the first time the prestigious meet will be held in the United States.
“Hotels in Eugene will be overbooked, and without a doubt, there will be people commuting from Corvallis and Albany,” Wright said.