Lane County Travel Spending Rebounds from Pandemic Losses

by Brian Rooney

August 21, 2023

Travel spending grew rapidly in the two years following the pandemic. Preliminary data from research firm Dean Runyan shows travel spending continued to grow rapidly in Lane County in 2022, reaching $1.4 billion, driven by traveler activity and higher prices. In 2021, the travel industry rebounded to prepandemic levels, reaching $1.1 billion. Travel was one of the hardest hit industries during the COVID-19 pandemic. Health measures that restricted people being in close proximity reduced demand for travel related services including restaurants, large gatherings, and airline travel. As a result, spending in Lane County’s travel and tourism industry dropped 46% from $1.0 billion in 2019 to $566.0 million in 2020, the lowest level since 2004. 

The graph below shows that travel spending in Lane County grew throughout the 1990s and peaked in 2008 at $717.0 million. As the Great Recession took hold in 2009, travel spending dropped $39.7 million, or 5.5%, to reach $677.3 million. Since then, travel spending grew each year, topping $1 billion for the first time in 2018 and growing into 2019 before dropping due to the pandemic.

The growth rate over the recovery period between 2009 and 2019 was 53.7%, which was well ahead of the U.S. inflation rate of 19.2%, showing that travel spending growth was strong before the pandemic, even adjusted for inflation.

All Oregon counties experienced an increase in travel spending in 2022. Lane County had the second highest level of direct travel spending of Oregon’s 36 counties.  Multnomah County was first with $4.1 billion and Deschutes was third with $1.1 billion.
Graph showing Lane County Total Direct Travel Spending (Millions of Dollars)

The largest share of visitor spending by commodity in Lane County in 2022 was in food service (25.8%) followed by accommodations (24.5%); retail sales (12.5%); arts, entertainment, and recreation (10.0%); local transportation and gas (9.9%); food stores (9.3%); and visitor air transportation (8.0%). The largest increase in visitor spending between 2021 and 2022 was in visitor air transportation (64.3%) while the least was in accommodations (16.4%).

Most travel spending occurred in the eastern portion of the county, which includes the Eugene-Springfield area, at $1.1 billion (77.0%). The remaining $320.7 million of travel spending occurred in the coastal portion of the county.

Lane County employment attributed to travel spending follows a similar trend as travel spending although employment has not reached prepandemic levels. After dropping from 11,140 jobs in 2019 to 8,530 in 2020 for a loss of 23.4%, employment rebounded to 9,060 jobs in 2021. The job gains continued in 2022, adding 1,690 to reach 10,750.

Graph showing Total Direct Travel Employment in Lane County

Lane County’s travel employment as a share of total employment was 5% in 2022. This compares with 2% for the Portland Region and 20% for the Oregon Coast Region.

The most recent estimates from the Oregon Employment Department show that employment in the travel-related leisure and hospitality industry grew over the past year in Lane County. Between June 2022 and June 2023, employment grew by 1,400 from 17,400 to 18,800, or 8.0%.

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