While the Yakima Valley tourism economy hasn’t fully recovered from three years of the COVID pandemic, it’s taking steps in the right direction, officials with Yakima Valley Tourism say in their annual report.

The organization’s president and CEO, John Cooper, told the Yakima City Council at its March 7 meeting that 2022 was a year of continued adaptation to attract and serve visitors while remaining a vital resource for the community.

“Last year continued our recovery from the pandemic,” Cooper said. “We’re seeing that we’ve turned the corner in most of the tourism sectors and recovery is underway.”

Cooper said that in 2022, more than 2.3 million trips were made to the Yakima Valley, with travelers spending $342 million in Yakima County. Those visitors support, both directly and indirectly, 4,670 jobs for local residents and generate $34 million in state and local tax revenue.

He also shared his organization’s goals for 2023 and beyond, including several new sports events planned in the Valley and some new marketing initiatives.

Convention center expands

Cooper said 2022 was the first full year of operation following the convention and event center’s expansion, and he noted the improvements were well received both by community groups and new groups who could not be accommodated previously.

“Groups are really loving the new (18,000 square foot) addition to the center and all the new upgrades,” he said.

One example was the Washington State Bar Association, which brought 730 attendees to Yakima in July for the state bar exam.

“This could not have happened without the expansion. This was the most intricate setup ever done in the facility,” Cooper said. “As a result, the bar association has confirmed the exams will return in 2023 and 2026.”

The center also hosted a breakfast event for the Yakima School District attended by 1,800 people, making it the largest event in the center’s history.

Statistically, 289 event days were hosted by the center, a 5% increase over 2021, and already 123 future event days are booked, a 166% increase over the early months of 2021, Cooper said.

“Granted, we have still not reached pre-pandemic levels, but it has been projected that the meetings industry will be back to where it was pre-pandemic in the next few years,” he added.

Welcoming sports events

The Yakima Valley’s location in the center of Washington state and its ample number of playing fields, indoor facilities and hotel rooms has long make it a popular site for sports tournaments, and that trend continued in 2022.

There were 461 sporting events held here in 2022, a 73% increase over the previous year. Those events resulted in 59,000 room nights booked in Yakima Valley hotels and an economic impact of $47 million, Cooper said.

“Our sports commission works very hard to promote new events and to serve and promote the ones that are already here,” he added.

The Yakima Valley hosted 19 Washington Interscholastic Activities Association championships during the past year, including the recently completed Class 1A and 2A boys and girls basketball state tournaments at the Yakima Valley SunDome.

Cooper said the Yakima Valley Sports Commission has a strong relationship with the WIAA, as evidenced by the organization awarding the Yakima Valley the 2023 and 2024 boys and girls state track and field championships for classes 1A, 1B and 2B.

Other “signature” sporting events hosted here include the Dye Hard 5K race, the Hot Shots 3-on-3 basketball tournament and the SunDome Volleyball Festival.

Getting the word out

Yakima Valley Tourism staff has several ways to spread the word about agritourism opportunities, events and other information travelers request about the region, Cooper said.

In addition to the main Visitor Information Center on Fair Avenue, across from the Gateway Shopping Center, a new satellite information center opened in October 2022 in the main entrance of the Valley Mall.

“With support from the city of Union Gap, we opened our second location at Valley Mall,” Cooper added. “Open Thursdays through Sundays, this location gives us the opportunity to serve more guests and to be open more days of the week.”

When combined with the Fair Avenue information center, which is open Wednesdays through Saturdays, Cooper said there were 3,986 walk-in visitors requesting information, a 36% increase over 2021. Tourism staff also fielded about 5,700 inquiries through “old school” mail, phone calls and emails.

Social media impressions also increased in 2022, Cooper said, with a 157% increase over 2021. The number of visitors to visityakima.com rebounded from 2020 and 2021, to a 10% over 2019 levels, and the average amount of time on the website was longer, he added.

Also in 2022, the agency created two mobile passports promoting wineries and breweries across the Yakima Valley. In partnership with the Central Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, work is underway on a taco and tamale trail which should debut in the next few months, Cooper said.

Yakima Valley Tourism also hosted several travel writers and social media influencers who wrote about beer and wine country, the outdoors and other activities in the Valley. The organization’s board reported 88 features with 153 million in circulation and views about Yakima and the Yakima Valley in print, broadcast and online channels.

Besides the taco and tamale trail promotion and app, other initiatives for this year include working with city officials on a possible new hotel development near the convention and event center, and possibly adding more parking for the facility, Cooper said.

Contact Joel Donofrio at jdonofrio@yakimaherald.com.

Business Reporter

Joel Donofrio is the business reporter for the Yakima Herald. He was born and raised in the Chicago area, but he and his wife, Cathy, fell in love with the beauty (and low humidity) of the West and moved here in 2009, eventually relocating to Yakima in September 2021. They have two young adult children, Anthony and Joanna, and a dog, Molly.  When he is not taking photos of construction sites, tracking down new and relocating businesses or catching up on agricultural trends, Joel enjoys playing guitar, singing, listening to music and playing and watching sports. 

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