Innkeeper's Corner: Navy produces tourism dollars

June was one of the best Junes I’ve ever seen for the lodging industry in Oak Harbor, at least since 1999. For that, we should all say, “God Bless the Navy!” Our regular summer tourists had not yet arrived and business was being driven by the Navy and the accompanying naval contractors who do much of the maintenance and upgrade work on base. The extra families from Spain haven’t hurt either. Maybe you’ve never thought of it, but a very large part of our tourism dollars come from NAS Whidbey. From the sailors who are here temporarily for a class, or arriving new in town for their first duty post, to the family and friends that come to visit while they’re stationed here; the Navy brings tourists to our town. Families that have been stationed here often come back for vacations and some even move her permanently in retirement. And, we don’t have to advertise to get them here; the Navy sees to that.

Speaking of June, traditionally June is considered a big wedding month. This seems to be true. Whidbey Island is a popular place to get married, judging by the number of wedding parties that are looking to book rooms in June, July and August. I guess they don’t want to get rained out at Deception Pass State Park when they say “I do” out of doors. You can’t blame someone for wanting to get hitched in the park, though. Its spectacular scenery makes it one of the most visited state parks on the West Cost; for tourists, brides and photographers alike. There aren’t too many spots on this old world that you can watch eagles dive for lunch, catch your own fish and have wedding cake for dessert all in one day.

Oak Harbor’s Race Week starts Sunday, July 10. I have heard that some regatta races in other areas of our great nation are being phased out due to poor participation; rising fuel costs, higher lodging costs, poor sponsor participation, etc. are being blamed. Oak Harbor’s annual event seems to keep chugging along nicely, even growing, despite high fuel costs and the highest gas tax in the country. I guess it’s hard to levy a tax on the wind.

This Race Week looks to be one of the biggest of recent years. Could this be due to the energy and effort of City Hall to keep the event strong? Or, could it be that Stan Stanley and Bob Ross, two of the events founders, are just better than most at driving things forward? Either way, I applaud both the city and the previously mentioned duo for keeping Race Week an integral part of Oak Harbor’s tourism efforts. Stan Stanley states that he is retiring from his duties as organizer this year - we shall see. He looks pretty tuckered out to me. I hope he remembers my free wrist bands.

You may be wondering why I would even want more tourists visiting Oak Harbor. Don’t they just clog up our already congested roads? Aren’t they the reason we even have to discuss the possibility of a roundabout on Highway 20? One reason is that my livelihood depends upon it. After all, isn’t it always about me? (Have you seen my wrist bands?) But more importantly, tourists coming to Island County spend well over $100 million per year in our county. That’s money that stays here, even when the tourists don’t. Tourists help create over 2,700 travel related jobs for residents in Island County. That’s money and jobs for you and me. That, my friends, is a big impact on our local economy. Not all of those visitors just come to look at the flora and fauna on Whidbey Island. Many, as written of earlier, are with the Navy, but some are business travelers with jobs that service our citizenry in other ways. All of these visitors have a positive impact and help pay for many of the services that we have grown accustomed to and expect here in Oak Harbor.

So, the next time you are stuck in traffic on State Route 20 or someone stops you downtown and asks, “Can you tell me how to get to Whidbey Island?” just smile. Their tax money is helping fix that pothole on my street. I told you it was all about me.

Randy Bradford is general manager of the Coachman Inn in Oak Harbor. His column appears the second Saturday of each month in the Whidbey News-Times.

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