June 24, 2022

Amy Guerra, Marketing Director
Visit Bellingham | Whatcom County
360-671-3990 Ext. 208

Economic Data Shows Impact of Tourism Spending in Whatcom County in 2021 and Capacity for More Recovery

Annual direct travel spending in Whatcom County rebounded to $527.4M in 2021, up 38.4% from 2020 and at 95% of the pre-pandemic year of 2019 ($555M). In an industry that previously grew on average 4.7% per year, last year’s significant gap in growth reveals both continued struggle and an opportunity for a rebound.

(BELLINGHAM, WA) Recent data released by Tourism Economics shows that direct visitor spending’s economic impact regained some ground in Whatcom County last year, increasing 38.4% from 2020 to 2021 to an annual total of $527.4M. The study, prepared for State of Washington Tourism and Washington State Destination Marketing Organizations Association, tracks visitors to the region, their associated spend in five categories, and industry jobs.

Fig A: Breakdown of direct travel spending in Whatcom County in 2021

Fig B: View of total travel spending by sector across three years including pandemic decrease

Fig C: Direct visitor spending by year since 2015 indicating Interruption of growth


Fig D: Changes in visitor spending by sector and employment numbers

While 2021’s $527.4M in spending represents a return to 95% of the level of 2019 ($555M), the increase doesn’t replace losses seen in 2020, or reach the level of projected growth before COVID. With a previous average annual rate of increase of 4.7%, Whatcom County’s direct visitor spending was on track to exceed $600M in 2021. These two deficits—real losses from 2020 and 2021 and lost momentum in growth—reveal the pandemic’s remaining scars as well as the growth opportunity for this year and future years’ visitor activities.

When the direct visitor spending for 2021 is separated into 5 industry categories, the recovery rates further vary. Whatcom’s transportation sector showed a 36% increase in spending in 2021 after the pandemic stalled travel and caused a 43% year-over-year decline in 2020. Food and beverage, recreation and attractions, and retail all increased at 25 – 30% from 2020. Accommodations rebounded at the highest level—63%—to surpass 2019 levels, previous growth indices, and food and beverage spending for the first time in our data.

The jobs data tells the grimmest story and could be an element capping the recovery capacity for some sectors and fueling the uneven increases. Tourism and hospitality jobs only rebounded at 11.9% in 2021, not even half of the rate of the spending data those jobs support. Hospitality jobs in Whatcom County dropped from 7,443 in 2019 to 4,199 in 2020, and only grew to 4,698 jobs in 2021.

Additional study data shows the value of a traveler per person in 2021. Average spending per person of an overnight traveler in Whatcom County is $73 with a per trip impact for one traveler of $277. When the impact of an entire overnight traveling party is considered, the per day impact is $254, and the per trip impact is $965.

“When you consider an industry in our county that directly causes over half a billion dollars of spending, it is clearly so vital. But when we put our work at that personal level, the fact that each family or group of tourists that visits spends almost $1,000 during their stay, it makes our jobs clear. What we do at Visit Bellingham | Whatcom County to attract and support each and every visitor makes a difference, and we take this work very seriously. Framed in another way, the taxes generated from visitor spending save each Whatcom County household $567.50 per year, so visitors and our work are subsidizing the quality of life of our friends and neighbors throughout Whatcom County,” says Visit Bellingham | Whatcom County CEO Sandy Ward.

More information on efforts to support visitor spending and economic recovery through tourism can be found in Visit Bellingham | Whatcom County’s annual report video and accompanying document, at

Visit Bellingham | Whatcom County is an independent, 501 (c)(6) nonprofit economic development organization whose purpose is to improve the economy by marketing Bellingham Whatcom County as a premier, year-round visitor, sports, outdoor recreation, arts and cultural, and meetings destination, which supports all travel, tourism, and hospitality businesses and nonprofits in Whatcom County.

        We acknowledge that Whatcom County is located on the unceded territory of the Coast Salish Peoples. They cared for the lands that included what we’d call the Puget Sound region, Vancouver Island and British Columbia since time immemorial. This gives us the great obligation and opportunity to learn how to care for our surrounding areas and all the natural and human resources we require to live. We express our deepest respect and gratitude for our indigenous neighbors, the Lummi Nation and Nooksack Tribe, for their enduring care and protection of our shared lands and waterways.
Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism
Visitor Center Located at I-5 Exit 253 - Check Hours
904 Potter Street, Bellingham, WA 98229
Phone: 360-671-3990

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