WSF CANCELATIONS FALLOUT:  After Great July, San Juans Tourism Takes a ‘Distressing’ Turn in August​

FRIDAY HARBOR, WA–On Thu., Dec. 21, Deborah Hoskinson approached the podium in the Friday Harbor town council meeting, with her loyal San Juan Islands Visitor’s Bureau staff seated behind her.  It was the year-end summary – presented to one of the major funding sources for the Bureau. Working her way through a PowerPoint presentation, the…

FRIDAY HARBOR, WA–On Thu., Dec. 21, Deborah Hoskinson approached the podium in the Friday Harbor town council meeting, with her loyal San Juan Islands Visitor’s Bureau staff seated behind her.  It was the year-end summary – presented to one of the major funding sources for the Bureau.

Working her way through a PowerPoint presentation, the Bureau’s Executive Marketing Director reiterated the importance of marketing to “feeder markets” to keep about $290 million tourism dollars a year flowing into the county’s economy.  More than $23 million in annual tax collections, too.

She disclosed that fully 70 percent of the visitors to the San Juans live inside the Seattle TV market.

Then, Hoskinson got to the slides she called “distressing.” 

A PowerPoint slide compared 2019 tourism data to 2023 data.  She said 2019 was the San Juans last normal year for tourism before the pandemic.

“So you’ll see in July,” she said, “we were doing quite well compared to 2019. With the number of visitors… But then in August it dropped, and September it dropped. And as you know, August is a main peak season peak month for us. And so is September. So this has been distressing.

“Lodging taxes [are] down for the town, and lodging taxes also down for the county.  So, part of the problem is reliable ferries reliable crews and good news out there in the Seattle market that who’s reading all this bad news is our main feeder market.”

Without naming specific properties, Hoskinson referred to several larger hotels in the San Juans which are now reporting a marked reduction in reservations for next season.

Said Hoskinson, “One lodging reported that they’ve got 500 less rooms already booked in 2024, than they had this time last year for 2023.  Five-hundred-plus rooms.”

Hoskinson stressed that the data being reported in this part of her presentation was interim, and that all the reasons for the sudden change in momentum in August may not yet fully be known.

Then the bureau leader spoke of the effort reservations people are investing in persuading some visitors to commit to a booking.

She said, “It is reported that this summer they were convincing people on a daily basis to please come.  People just stopped.  This is a quote.  ‘People just stopped considering even coming here because of the news, that negative news that was out there.’”

jeff.noedel@cnl2.com