Blaine and Birch Bay fare well in tourism study

Published on Thu, Jun 17, 2010 by By Jake Lunden

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BirchBayBlaine and Birch Bay are among the top five tourist destinations in Whatcom County, according to a survey and report on Whatcom County tourists. Compiled for Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism by Dean Runyan Associates, the draft report details recreation, shopping and spending by tourists, as well as visitor demographics and their views on Whatcom County as a tourist destination.

Natural beauty, peace and quiet, and other aspects of the natural environment attract travelers to the area, as well as opportunities for outdoor recreation and proximity to coastal areas, according to the analysis. When asked to rank attributes of Whatcom County, tourists put natural settings and friendly locals at the top of their lists.

According to the report, "Residents are considered friendly and the area’s parks and scenic areas, camping locations and trails get particularly high scores. There is also a high average score for how clean and quiet the area is, for its safety and security and for its wildlife. All of this, taken together, indicates that, whatever the motivation for travel to the County, visitors score the environment and residents highly."

The close proximity to the border is a great advantage for Blaine and Birch Bay, as one quarter of all tourists are Canadian visitors, according to the study. There were over 10 million border crossing from Canada into Whatcom County last year, indicating a steady climb from a low in the early 2000s when cross-border travel became more difficult.

Border crossings have yet to rebound to 1990s levels, when it was common to have over 15 million crossings annually. While Canadian visitors make up a sizable portion of Whatcom's tourism economy, the study indicated that ease of border crossing and exchange rates have a strong effect on the travel patterns of our Northern neighbors.

Blaine and Birch Bay are ideally situated to welcome Canadian travelers, as well as draw tourists from the Seattle metropolitan area. Sandwiched between these population centers, Whatcom County is poised to offer tourists smaller communities and close access to natural environments. In keeping with national trends, North Americans are spending less time on long vacations and opting for more day trips and one or two-night stays. While a majority of vacationers are taking more trips, they are taking them closer to home. Though Bellingham ranks as the most popular destination, Whatcom’s smaller communities are relatively more popular for overnight visitors.

The report found that visitors tend to be well-educated, with a higher number of bachelor and graduate degrees than the national average. Tourists also have relatively high incomes, as over half of the visitors have family incomes of $75,000 or more annually. Approximately 80 percent of visitors are middle aged or older, with 26 percent of visitors in their 50s. More than 75 percent of tourists are repeat visitors, and 85 percent of respondents said they are “very likely” to recommend Whatcom County as a good place to visit.