Friday, May 15, 2009

Never waste a recession

Sisters’ room tax revenues are down 13.3 percent compared to to the first quarter of 2008.

Another round of grim economic news, right? Not so fast.

Sisters is down all right, but not down anywhere near as much as Bend and the rest of Deschutes County. Bend’s room-tax revenues are off by 28.2 percent for March; Deschutes County as a whole by 22.7 percent. That tracks with the rest of the state, where room tax revenues are down by 20 to 30 percent from last year.

(Room taxes are levies imposed upon each night’s stay in a motel or hotel. They are a way of paying for the impacts of tourism on municipal services and a significant portion of revenues are usually plowed back into promoting tourism).

So Sisters is down, but not as much as elsewhere. Further, revenues are still up 15.3 percent compared to the first quarter of 2007. That’s in large part because FivePine Lodge come online later in 2007, adding a bunch more rooms. But those rooms still need to be filled to have an impact, so the number remains a valid gauge of where we sit.

We may not be sitting pretty, but we’re hanging in there. Sisters’ main industry is still and will always be tourism, so it’s good to see that people are still coming in decent numbers in the slow time of year. It bodes well for summer.

Actually, there’s a great opportunity here to take advantage of people’s need to stick closer to home. Sisters is a heck of a lot closer and cheaper for a Portland family than Disneyland or Mexico or Hawaii. There’s a good chance that, with good promotion, Sisters’ tourism industry could weather the economic storm in pretty good shape.

The housing market and broad sectors of the labor market are still hurting and recovery is not on the near horizon, but if tourism hangs on, so does Sisters. Recovery in other sectors will come, eventually.

Erin Borla, Executive Director of the Sisters Area Chamber of Commerce, gets it. “Never waste a recession” is her current watchword. The Chamber is aggressively marketing Sisters as a high-value destination for budget-conscious travelers. Lots to do and see, not too much travel expense.

Raising Sisters’ regional and national profile will stand us in good stead years down the road when this recession is an ugly memory — and Sisters is still dependent on tourist dollars.

Jim Cornelius, Editor


  1. Bravo! If we paddle this boat in the same direction everyone will win.

  2. Sisters has shown an incredible amount of community involvement to set us apart from the ordinary. We are all impacted by this recession, but efforts continue to move forward as a community. Kudos to our citizens for their willingness to overcome this economic slump and keep Sisters on the map.

  3. Sometimes the 'we can't see the forest for the trees' theory applies to us. I just put my home up on a home exchange website and had to list all of the recreational activities nearby. Kinda forgot what a VERY COOL place we live in - and I got a request from England the first week I had the listing up!!