Slow but steady can win the race, and the San Juans are proving that with strong numbers in the tourism business after several years of struggling.
“Beginning in July and continuing through August, the island economy was thriving for many of our chamber businesses,” said Orcas Chamber of Commerce Director Lance Evans. “In fact, the uptick was felt as early as June for some, with the overall number of visitors during the middle of summer reaching totals not seen in recent years.”
The chamber sent a survey to all of its members, asking how their summer went.
They had 60 total responses, including 17 lodging businesses, 11 retail, eight service, six dining establishments, and an assortment of other types of businesses.
Question 1: For the months of July and August, how would you say your business success compared to the same period in 2012? Seventy-five percent indicated “much better” with 20 percent noting it was about the same. Only five percent of businesses indicated business was worse.
Question 2: Looking back a few years, how did this summer season compare to the same period pre-recession (2007 or 2008)? A total of 55 percent replied it was much better with 33 percent indicating it was about the same. Only 12 percent felt it was worse.
For April through June, Washington State Ferries reported an overall rider increase of 1.8 percent for the San Juans routes. Anacortes to Shaw was up 6.5 percent; Lopez was down 1.3 percent; Orcas was up 4.6 percent; and Friday Harbor increased by .5 percent. Interisland rider traffic went up 3.8 percent.
The numbers for July, August and September are not yet available.
Lodging tax figures for the county are also on track. Previous numbers are as follows. In 2008: $409,292; 2009: $347,506; 2010: $383,231; 2011: $383,428; 2012: $442,157. So far, for 2013, the numbers are at $293,516.
The San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau reports that lodging tax for Orcas was up 22 percent for June and 3 percent for July. The figures for August and September are not yet available.
Orcas Island Shuttle reports business was up 12 percent in June, three percent in July and 32 percent in August.
On Orcas, realtors are reporting an upswing in home and land sales.
“This summer was much better than years’ past, for sure,” said Mariah Buck, manager of the Windermere office on Orcas. “In terms of pricing, properties that were selling this year were priced comparatively to 2002 or 2003 prices. There are some good opportunities – there are still some stick-built houses you can get for under $300,000.”
She reports her office moved through a lot of their inventory – a lot of which had been on the market for years.
Mary Clure, co-owner of Orcas Island Realty, echoed that sentiment. Their residential listings under $500,000 have almost all sold.
“For sellers who may have been waiting out the recession, please contact your agent since we (all the realtors) are short of residential inventory under $600,000,” she said.
Clure said land sales have also improved. In 2012, a total of 26 sold. So far in 2013, that number is already at 25.
Buck says listings in the $1 to $2 million price point are still heavy.
“There are really good values in that area, and we are finally seeing people shop in that range, which is encouraging,” Buck said.
“We have been busier this summer – more showings, more offers ... more buyers looking, both local and off island,” said Kate Wood of Orcas Dreams. “We believe the active real estate market in Seattle and King County will continue to spread outward and into the retirement and second home market.”
Teri Williams of T Williams Realty agreed.
“It was a fast, furious and fun summer,” she said. “Work was very busy – more than the past few summers.”
Ken Speck of Cherie L. Lindholm Real Estate said their vacation rental was up 12 percent over one year ago.
“We noticed the larger homes rented better than the small ones – and that was a surprise,” he said.