Travel Matters — to local economy

By Janet Dodson - executive director of Union County Tourism May 16, 2009 10:12 am

This is National Travel & Tourism Week. Communities all across America are using the designation to call attention to the importance of tourism in local, state and national economies.

National Travel and Tourism Week was established in 1983 when the U.S. Congress passed a joint resolution designating the week to be celebrated in May 1984. In a White House ceremony, President Ronald Reagan signed a presidential proclamation urging citizens to observe the week with “the appropriate ceremonies and activities.”

National Travel and Tourism Week is a collective annual effort to promote the power of travel in communities nationwide. The goal is to enhance the country’s economy, security and perception, and recognize the cultural and social benefits created by travel and tourism. Communities across the country are using the slogan “Travel Matters” to highlight tourism’s role in the economy. Go To the US Travel Association web site,, to learn more.

In Union County, visitors brought more than $34,500,000 into the local economy in 2007, the last year for which the figures were compiled for Travel Oregon by Dean Runyan Associates. About 400 people are directly employed in the visitor/hospitality industry in the county, generating $7.3 million in earnings, and $300,000 in local lodging tax receipts.

Visitor industry jobs provide flexible schedules for students, seniors and people needing unusual hours or part-time work. The jobs are excellent training ground for people newly entering the workforce and they provide opportunity for climbing the ladder to management level for those who want to make a career in lodging, restaurant/culinary, retail, attraction and recreation businesses.

The visitor industry can quickly expand when demand goes up, providing new jobs to serve visitors without a lot of additional investment in equipment or facilities. If we all work together, increasing everyone’s efforts to bring tourists our way this summer, we can help impact the local economy when it most needs a boost.

Contact your friends and relatives and ask them to visit this summer. Tell them about all of the fun things to see and do in La Grande and throughout Union County. Tell them to check out our tourism web site,, and give us their mailing addresses so we can send them a packet of visitor information. Invite your social or professional organization to hold their next conference or meeting in La Grande. Put together a family or class reunion.

“Staycations” are a reality, not just a catch phrase for 2009. People really are staying closer to their homes this year, exploring the things to see and do within 200 to 400 miles of their residence. They are looking for value and personal experiences when making their travel plans. Build on that phenomenon and the statewide Oregon 150 celebration, which encourages Oregonians to get to know their own state by vacationing in Oregon this year. Union County is a great bargain — one can pack a lot of fun into every dollar spent here.

Tourism also frequently provides the first contact a potential business owner has with a community. Numerous businesses have been built here by people who came first to enjoy the plentiful outdoor recreation and scenery, fell for the hometown atmosphere, and moved here to create jobs and enhance the community. Economic development professionals recognize this fact.

“For remote rural areas with stagnant population growth, in order to grow our economies, we must have new money coming in from outside the local market area,” said Charlie Mitchell, community and economic development director for the City of La Grande. “Tourism serves as a vehicle to bring in outside investment — either as short-term in the form of visitor dollars, or as longer-term by introducing potential relocating businesses to the area.”

Union County Tourism promotes the visitor attractions, events, products and services in La Grande and all of Union County, and works to increase visitor time and expenditures in the county. We also help develop attractions, recreation and activities that will bring visitors here and extend their stay.  We advise business owners and managers on how to reach travelers, and train tourism industry employees in customer service and hospitality. If you want to know more about the tourism marketing and development program, contact me at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

To ensure our visitors are well greeted and served, UCT is partnering with the Union County Chamber of Commerce to present Hospitality 101 training Tuesday in La Grande and Thursday in Union. Call 963-8588 for more information, or go to

Travel Matters to Union County, today and into the future.

Janet Dodson is executive director of Union County Tourism.