Portland tourism rebounds from COVID, but hiring issues may hold back full recovery

Portland’s tourism and hospitality industries are enjoying a welcome return to activity, but a full recovery to pre-pandemic levels isn’t expected until 2024 at the earliest, industry leaders said Thursday. .

In the four weeks ending July 9, demand for hotel accommodations in Portland’s central business district — an area that includes Downtown, the Pearl District and the Lloyd District — rose 28% per year. compared to the same period last year, according to data provided to Travel Portland by STR, a hospitality industry research firm. More than 176,000 overnight stays were booked in 2022 compared to 138,000 in 2021.

“As each of us walks around downtown or around town, we can see and feel that the buzz of the city is definitely coming back and in some cases coming back when we see these weekend happenings where we have tens of thousands of people here and experiencing the city,” said Megan Conway, Chief Strategy Officer at Travel Portland. “It’s been a very challenging time for our hotel partners, but the data we have gives us extreme optimism for the future in Portland.”

Other industry leaders expressed similar optimism at Thursday’s press conference about the pace of tourism’s return.

Andrew Hoan, president of the Portland Business Alliance, which acts as the city’s chamber of commerce, said Portland Metro is “having an incredible rebound from what has been remarkably difficult over the past two years.”

“Year-over-year footfall in our downtown has increased by 52%. And, we have recovered almost 75% of our pre-pandemic pedestrian traffic in the city centre, ”he said, citing figures collected by the organization. “These are huge steps forward, literally. People come back… because of our events and because of the things that make our city special.

Due to pandemic-related travel declines in 2020 and 2021, hotels in Portland and Oregon lost more than $1 billion in room revenue, resulting in a drop of nearly $170 million. dollars in state and local tax revenue, according to data provided by Oxford Economics. at the American Hotel and Lodging Association.

Travel Portland had expressed concern in recent years about damage to Portland’s reputation, releasing a poll suggesting Portland had lost its appeal as a tourist destination after months of social unrest, rising homelessness and a sharp increase in armed violence.

Today, however, tourism officials say it is clear that the pandemic and related travel and business restrictions have had the biggest impact on tourism. The easing of those restrictions — pausing and starting again as new variants break out — has closely followed hotel stays, officials said.

Business travel remains slow and international travelers have yet to return, said Chip Rogers, president and CEO of the lodging association. But leisure travel has seen a remarkable turnaround as vaccines have proliferated and restrictions have been lifted.

“This travel boom that we are seeing now can hopefully be sustained,” he said. “One of the challenges we face in our industry, like in so many others, is having a really hard time finding people to work in hotels.”

The race to fill hospitality jobs continues even after hotels have raised wages and tourism continues to rise.

Rogers said a search on Indeed showed Portland-area hotels were looking to fill more than 1,000 open jobs. Hotels, he said, are offering employees higher salaries, more benefits and more flexibility to try to meet summer travel demand.

“We desperately need people to join this industry because consumers are back. They want to stay in hotels, they like to travel again,” Rogers said. He added that the overall rate of wage increases in the hospitality industry has “overtaken the rest of the economy for wage increases”.

According to the Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association, the median advertised salary in Portland for hotel managers is over $55,000 per year. For hotel receptionists, the median annual salary is around $32,000.

Jason Brandt, president and CEO of the Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association, said the difficulty in hiring workers at hotels and restaurants means businesses will have to “make tough decisions about how to maintain the integrity of the customer experience”.

That could mean fewer available rooms at hotels or limited opening hours at restaurants, he said.

“The cost of living is, I think, a concern across the whole business ecosystem,” Brandt said. “We had many conversations about where we are now and ensuring that we provide sustainable jobs that can provide a sustainable lifestyle. There is a lot of work to be done in this space.

–Kristine de Leon, [email protected], 503-221-8506

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