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The Oregon travel industry continued to exhibit strong growth in 2016, with travel-related spending generating record revenues for the state.

“We've had seven consecutive years of very solid growth,” said Travel Oregon Chief Executive Officer Todd Davidson.

Independent findings by Dean Runyan Associates indicate that travel-related spending throughout the state increased by nearly $500 million last year, reaching a record $11.3 billion, while the number of Oregonians directly employed in the industry rose to more than 109,000.

“This is a job-generating industry,” Davidson said.

Davidson said the travel industry is finding ways to connect people with their Oregon experience and make them feel a little more “Oregonian.”

“They have such a good experience here that they want to continue to seek out Oregon products where they are," he said. "They'll join clubs or order Oregon wine at dinner, for example."

Some 50-60 percent of visitors have purchased Oregon products since returning home from a trip here, primarily craft and agricultural products.

“We are changing people's behavior,” Davidson said.

But what's happening on Oregon's South Coast?

Plenty, Davidson said.

Agritourism and ecotourism are expanding movements that continue to draw visitors to the South Coast.

Birders flock here year-round to catch a glimpse of some 500 types of migratory birds which pass through the area.

Photographers have an endless supply of scenic possibilities.

The Oregon Coast is lined with bluffs and promontories ideal for spotting the nearly 20,000 gray whales that migrate south to Mexico in December and then return, along with their newborn calves, north to Alaska from mid-March through June.

You'll see ardent cyclists gliding along just about every paved road in the state, including the Wild Rivers Coast Scenic Bikeway, which affords views of the South Coast's charming fishing hamlets and dramatic beaches. Hikers find trails off the beaten path.

The Wild Rivers Coast Farm Trail offers a fresh farm-to-table experience and introduces visitors to new culinary discoveries. Cuisine experiences rival those offered in large metropolitan areas.

Craft beer breweries, distilleries and wineries, as well as a new creamery are making a splash throughout the South Coast and offering a distinct sense of place.

Fishing, crabbing and clamming are all passionate pursuits.

Surfing, sailboarding, kite boarding and scuba diving bring the adventurous.

Beach combing from Florence to Brookings, walking the labyrinths at low tide in Bandon and horseback riding also draw visitors.

Cultural experiences include art galleries, live theater and music, museums, lighthouses and historic sites.

Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, which offers four distinct courses, one of which has been named the second best public course in the nation by Golf Digest, continues to beckon golf enthusiasts worldwide.

It's easy to see why people come. But what makes them stay, how much do they spend and how does that impact residents?

Davidson said the Dean Runyon report answers many of those questions from a statistical standpoint.

Coos County direct travel impacts in 2016 included $265.3 million in spending, $76.6 million in earnings, employed 3,280 people (includes all full- and part-time employment of payroll employees and proprietors) and earned $9 million in tax revenue.

The re-spending of travel-generated revenues by businesses and employees generates additional impacts.

“Everything we do at Travel Oregon is aimed at improving the lives of all Oregonians through travel and tourism,” said Davidson. “This report, indicating the strong economic impact and jobs numbers the industry brings to the state, shows us that we are on track to achieve our mission of inspiring travel that drives economic development, enhancing communities — both large and small — in every corner of the state.”

Many Coos County business owners rely on tourism to keep them afloat. Savvy entrepreneurs seek to understand their customers at a deeper level. Capturing those visitors and keeping them connected with social media and email is key. Businesses can talk to those people every day and keep them in the loop via Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and other social media.

“I'd take Facebook followers over a visitor guide any day,” Davidson said.

Davidson shared a story about a man named John Bauer, who came to visit Oregon from out of state with his family to vacation and fish, visiting Crater Lake and taking in plays at the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland before returning home.

“Why do we live here when we love it there?” Bauer soon asked himself.

It didn't take long for Bauer to follow his passion and move his family and high-end fly reel business to Oregon.

“You may find you have businesses here who are asking visitors what was their introduction to Coos County (and why they love it here),” Davidson said.

The Rural Tourism Studio recently helped train a group in sustainable tourism development.

Tourism Studio is a professional development program designed to bolster the tourism economy in rural regions of the state. Travel Oregon, in partnership with a local steering committee, hosted a series of workshops this year, January through April, in the Southern Oregon Coast region. Communities included Reedsport, Winchester Bay, North Bend, Coos Bay, Charleston, Bandon, Coquille and Myrtle Point.

Bandon participants in the 2017 series included representatives from local businesses as well as the nonprofit and public sector, according to Bandon Chamber Executive Director Julie Miller.

Bandon Chamber members hosted Tourism Studio participants for culinary and agritourism networking and workshop events. Speakeasy 33 hosted a networking group event. And, businesses on the Wild Rivers Coast Farm Trail toured the trail’s farms and markets. The Farm Trail, which started in 2015, emerged from the 2013-14 Southern Coos and North Curry Rural Tourism Studio.

“The travel and tourism industry continues to be a bright spot for Oregon’s economy,” said Governor Kate Brown. “Not only are travel-related spending, employment and earnings vital components to the state’s healthy economy, but also, traveling and connecting with the outdoors are good for Oregonians’ health and well-being.”

The findings reported by Dean Runyan Associates confirm the economic significance of the travel industry in Oregon. To read the full report, including specific regional and county breakouts, go to Industry.TravelOregon.com/EconomicImpact.

About Travel Oregon

The Oregon Tourism Commission, dba Travel Oregon, works to enhance visitors’ experiences by providing information, resources and trip planning tools that inspire travel and consistently convey the exceptional quality of Oregon. The commission aims to improve Oregonians’ quality of life by strengthening economic impacts of the state’s $11.3 billion tourism industry that employs 109,500 Oregonians. Visit TravelOregon.com to learn more.

Travel Oregon contributed to this report.

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