Increase in first-quarter visitors reported

Some local business owners have expressed concern about the state of tourism on the islands this year. Gas prices are up, real estate sales and ferry ridership are down, and some are worried that this may mean a slower-than-usual summer season.

However, statistics are on the side of the islands’ economy.

During the first quarter of 2008, attendance at state parks in the San Juan Islands was up over first quarter 2007. At Moran State Park on Orcas Island, there were 1,000 to 2,000 more visitors in January, February and March than in the same period a year ago. Ditto for Lime Kiln State Park on San Juan Island.

Many lodging facilities on San Juan are also reporting healthy starts to 2008. Elements Hotel and Spa didn’t have any specific figures, but reported an increase in visitors over first quarter 2007. States Inn and Ranch B&B also reports being busier than last year.

Washington State Tourism hopes Washingtonians – armed with stimulus checks but facing higher prices at the pump – will be compelled to travel closer to home this summer. To encourage this, the Washington State Tourism has launched a campaign to entice residents to travel within their own state where many amazing experiences can be found in “your own backyard,” as its Web site states.

Deborah Hopkins, executive director of the San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau, said, “We’re hoping more Washingtonians will stay in the state and come up to the islands.”

She said those who have not come to the islands in a long time should come back for another visit.

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