Anyone who has strolled through downtown lately has seen that it is a husk of what it once was: Restaurants, hotels and office buildings once teeming with people are largely boarded up and empty due to the pandemic.
On Oct. 15, Travel Portland held its first online seminar in a new quarterly series of updates on the state of the city's tourism industry, and the numbers were at once jarring and hopeful.
It's true that the city's core is suffering the most. As of August, hotel demand had plummeted by 68% from the same time last year, while lodging revenue was down by a staggering 81%, which also dealt a blow to the transient lodging tax, which funnels revenue to everything from the general fund to the Convention Center. It saw an 85% drop compared to 2019.
But even though downtown's hotels are struggling—as of last week, they saw a 27% occupancy rate—Travel Portland says businesses on the city's outskirts were faring a bit better, with more bookings near Portland International Airport and the Jantzen Beach area.
Overall, Portland's recovery is in line with other similarly sized cities, such as Seattle and Minneapolis. Destinations that tend to be most popular for vacationers, like Honolulu and Miami, are performing much worse right now.
Mountain resorts and some quieter coastal towns are bringing in the most business, as people who have the means to travel during a pandemic are trying to avoid crowds and recreate in more remote locations.
Related: The Visitors: A Photo Essay.
Some bright spots during the conference were actually room bookings forced in part because of the outbreak. The Vancouver Whitecaps Football Club is using Providence Park as its home arena due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada. That means the team is playing the rest of the 2020 Major League Soccer season in town, creating the need for more than 1,600 room nights.
Additionally, Bravo's reality program Top Chef has finally chosen Portland as its filming location. While that would have normally led to hotel stays for some cast and crew, the show needs to keep those people onsite during the pandemic, thus leading to over 7,000 room nights for that project alone.
In the longer term, NCAA Division I Basketball has announced that both the women's and men's teams will play some games in Portland in 2024 and 2026, respectively, generating nearly 8,000 room nights in total. Two large conferences, the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists and the Society for Information Display, will occupy more than 12,500 rooms in 2025 and 2027.
In an effort to draw more tourists to the area in the near term, Travel Portland is instituting a marketing plan beginning in November to make people aware of its COVID safety pledge. Then beginning in May, Travel Portland wants to ramp up its campaign, pouring $500,000 into those efforts.
This, of course, is dependent on COVID-19 cases plummeting and the possibility that a safe and effective vaccine has been developed by that point.