Traffic is crazy, along U.S. Highway 101 from Crescent City north up through Brookings-Harbor and Gold Beach.
Motels, campsites and vacation rentals are booked; restaurants are hopping; beaches and waterways are crowded.
Does that mean this season’s visitor numbers are up over previous years?
Probably so, at least a bit. That’s what an informal survey by the Del Norte Triplicate and the Curry Coastal Pilot shows.
Cindy Vosburg, recently named director of the Crescent City/Del Norte County Chamber of Commerce, reports a robust season there. “This has been a healthy season for our area businesses,” said Vosburg. “We are as busy as ever.
“The Redwood National and State Campgrounds have been sold out for months, with all available campsites booked.”
Redwood National and State Parks said their numbers have been equal to or slightly higher than last year, said Vosburg, with visitor center sales trending about 5 percent above previous year.
“The season isn’t over yet, we just don’t know, but my instincts are that tourism is up yet again,” That’s the opinion of Dave Lacey, owner and paddling guide at South Coast Tours, which is based in Gold Beach.
“South Coast Tours has been a little down for international travelers the last couple of years, but (we’re) up overall by a significant amount. We were up by 73% from 2018,” he said.
Meantime, Brookings-Harbor Chamber of Commerce president Greg Williams couldn’t capture exact numbers because, he said, the chamber is restructuring somewhat and “the necessary vehicles to capture information” aren’t currently available.
However, he added, “Tourism is up, as the weather this year has been amazing, events have been well planned and executed, and there’s been very little to deal with from wildfires.
“Downtown traffic and out-of-state plates certainly attest to that.”
Gold Beach City Administrator Jodi Fritz said that for the period July 2018-June 2019, that community’s overall occupancy figures for motels and vacation rentals were down by 2 percent.
That dip stems primarily from fewer visitors January through June because of higher rainfall and the Hooskanaden slide that closed U.S. Highway 101 in February, March and April.
Still, visitor numbers traditionally go up in July and August, said Fritz, and, “I’m not overly concerned.”
So how big is tourism?
To put the importance of local tourism numbers in perspective, the average tourist group (party size 2.5, length of stay 1.7 days) in Gold Beach plans to spend about $1,724 for their trip to cover lodging, dining, sightseeing and attractions, according to a variety of surveys.
Across this region, the anticipated spending is $1,281.
Those number add up astronomically when considering the total number of visitors passing through thia area. At the Gold Beach Visitor Center, 30,253 visitor contacts were made in 2018. Through June of this calendar year, 12,882 people have been through the visitor center.
The taxable rents (lodging taxes) for last calendar year in Gold Beach were $7.83 million.
Statistics from the Travel Oregon Welcome Center at the Crissey Field State Recreation Site on the Oregon/California border showed that numbers for the period May-July were up from 13,904 visitors in 2018 to 14,200 in 2019.
According to Travel Oregon’s Linea Gagliano, “Tourism in the (south Oregon coast) generates $413 million in visitor spending, which directly employs 5,400 local residents.”
In Del Norte County, the figures for travel-related spending in 2017 show visitors spent $132 million, generating $10.5 million in tax revenue and employing 1,400 people. (Source: Visit California, authored by Dean Runyan Associates, Inc.)
So, by any calculation, tourism in Curry and Del Norte counties is big business … vital to the wellbeing of the local economy and governments.
Who is coming and why?
“The largest percentage of our guests are from the (Willamette) Valley and NorCal,” said Debbie Branson, director of the Gold Beach Visitor Center. “Those are the people who come here on purpose to vacation.”
The Travel Oregon Welcome Center at Crissey Field confirmed that the top domestic visitor numbers are from Oregon, California and Washington, in that order.
Top international visitors come from Canada, Germany, Australia and New Zealand.
“What’s driving tourism is their desire to see our area and region, based on our marketing and promotional efforts,” said Gold Beach City Administrator Fritz.
“Most of our visitors are outdoor enthusiasts, and that means both passive and active. We have a lot of folks that come for hiking, biking, water sports such as kayaking and windsurfing, and fishing,” she said. ”But we also have as many, or more, folks that just like to come and relax, unplug, view and be in, or experience, our exceptional outdoors.
“That is especially true in winter, when folks come to storm watch,” said Fritz. The City of Gold Beach is “doing everything and anything we can” to promote outdoor recreation.
“A lot of people are attracted by our unique weather here in southern Curry County,” said Brookings’ Williams. “Couple that with beautiful scenery and a host of owner-operated restaurants to enjoy, as well as downtown eclectic shopping, and it’s really quite a nice place to be.”
He said visitors to this year’s Brookings-Harbor “Azalea Festival” hailed from as far away as Southern California, Washington and even Nevada.
“The number-one reason people come to our region is for the redwoods,” said Crescent City Chamber director Vosburg. “We get people in from all over the world.
“Just this week, we talked to groups from Finland, England, New Zealand, Germany, Canada and, of course, all across the United States.
“We get families, young couples, retirees, cyclists, backpackers walking the Coast Trail. People love our coast and our redwoods.”
She said her organization has been focused on promoting its website, visitdelnortecounty.com, which launched a new brand just a few months ago.
Vosburg said the site is filled with current data valuable to travelers planning on visiting the region, including lodging, restaurants, places to visit and things to do.
“This site is a full, comprehensive look at our beautiful region, and brings travelers from all over the world to Del Norte County.”
Can more be done?
All of the tourism officials agreed that top-notch service, collaboration and cooperation among stakeholders are key components to building the momentum of this region’s tourism industry.
“We make sure to serve our travelers once they arrive, by having a good visitor center open seven days a week during this busy season,” Crescent City’s Vosburg said.
Brookings-Harbor is working on fostering a south Curry County environment where businesses and residents alike can come together with the goal of enhancing the area, according to Williams. “We need to make decisions based on facts and data, not perception, inclination or past practices.”
Agreed Gold Beach’s Fritz: “Because travel, tourism and outdoor recreation have changed dramatically in the past 10 years, we need to be strategic about data collection and analysis.”
She recommends making surgical decisions about what, where and how to spend tourism dollars, and to hire professionals to do that work.
“As a region, we need to continue collaborating with our regional partners and continue to support one another,” she stressed, noting that visitors can’t get to Brookings without going through Gold Beach or Crescent City.
“So, it only makes sense to collaborate and strengthen one another.”