Tourism Economics, a United Kingdom-based travel research firm, recently released data that show a 25.7 percent increase in Thurston County tourism between 2015 and 2019.

Drawn to the area by attractions like the Hands On Children’s Museum, Olympia’s massive farmers market, and the Bountiful Byway, more than 3.5 million visitors flocked to Thurston County last year — a 6.9 percent increase from the previous year.

The trajectory of this growth, however, was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic crisis that shut down travel in early 2020. This caused Thurston County to see a 65 percent dip in hotel occupancy, according to Tennessee-based Smith Travel Research.

The result? Thurston County likely will see a steep decline in the tax revenue that usually is generated by hospitality, recreation, and retail — which amounted to close to $460 million in 2019 — and a significant decrease in tourism related jobs — down 42 percent statewide.

“It’s easy to get lost in the staggering numbers of our region’s past tourism growth and this current reality,” CEO of Experience Olympia and Beyond Shauna Stewart said in a statement. “What’s important to remember is these dollars and figures have a real impact on local people … Re-investing in tourism businesses and destination marketing is a key component to local economic recovery.”

Experience Olympia currently is working on marketing campaigns to entice locals and visitors to visit Thurston County eateries, attractions, and hotels as Gov. Jay Inslee’s Safe Start Washington multi-phase plan progresses. Marketing efforts include a partnership with Thurston Strong for a video series aimed at promoting local businesses and bolstering consumer confidence.

“Planning an out-of-home adventure looks different these days, but we can still make meaningful memories and recreate responsibly,” Stewart said.