Bend, OR: Population 100,000?
Keeping track of all the city’s visitors
By Tyler Leeds / The Bulletin
What’s a visitor day?
Over the course of a year, the city of Bend averages between 4.9 million and 6 million visitor days, according to Visit Bend. A visitor day is equal to the amount of days each visitor spends in the city. For example:
A family of 4 who spends 1 week in the city would count as 28 visitor days.
A couple who visit for 1 day without spending the night would count as 2 days.
Bend’s population isn’t expected to clear 100,000 for another decade, but if you count couch surfers, second-home owners and hotel guests, it’s already done just that.
During the summers of 2012 and 2013, Bend averaged 18,000 visitors a day, according to research commissioned by Visit Bend. Meanwhile, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated the city’s full-time population to be 81,236 in 2013. Combined with projected residential population growth and expectations of a strong tourism season, it’s likely Bend’s feet-on-the-ground population will clear 100,000 on quite a few days this summer, as it likely did last summer, too.
While lines may seem especially long and bar stools dreadfully scarce during the river-floating season, the city’s full-time plus visitor population rarely falls below 93,000, as the number of average daily visitors reaches a low of just 12,000 in the winter.
“Bend’s tourism industry has had four consecutive record summers, so there is clearly strong momentum in the industry,” said Doug LaPlaca, president and CEO of Visit Bend. “It’s impossible to know when an extended run like this will end, but with the extraordinary and historic summer lineup at the Les Schwab Amphitheater, I’m predicting another record summer.”
Bend City Manager Eric King said the city’s bloated summer population is felt most directly by the police and fire departments, which see an increase in calls for service. Thanks to the city’s transient room tax, which charges guests staying in hotels, bed and breakfasts and other accommodations, some of the visitors who come through Bend help to pay for these services.
About 85 percent of the city’s general fund is spent on emergency services. Annually, property taxes, paid directly by owners and indirectly by renters, generally contributes around $25 million to the fund, while the room tax generates about $4 million.
“The contribution from the transient room tax is actually close to being proportional,” King said, referencing the fact that during the summer, about one-fifth of the city’s population is made up of visitors.
Another area visitors impact, and where the toll of endless SUV tires is visibly felt, is the roads, which city officials say are in poor condition. The City Council is considering proposing a gas tax of 5 cents per gallon, something that both visitors and full-time residents would pay. Based on revenue generated by other Oregon cities, a gas tax could contribute about $2.5 million a year. In total, the value of deferred road maintenance is estimated by the city to be $80 million.
“There’s a significant impact on our roads from the numbers of people coming through,” King said. “A gas tax would be one way for those visiting to pay their fair share.”
Currently, a majority of visitors don’t pay the transient room tax. According to Visit Bend, of all the days spent by tourists in Bend, only 28 percent involve a hotel stay. Seven percent come from people who don’t stay the night, while 65 percent fall into an “other” category, which LaPlaca said could encompass anything from second-home owners to those sleeping on a friend’s floor. While it’s hard to estimate, LaPlaca said there’s room for about 25,000 to stay in Bend on any given night.
Despite the size of the visiting population, the city’s planning staff doesn’t directly consider tourists during discussions about how to shape the city. However, city of Bend Planning Manager Brian Rankin said related issues come up all the time.
“One of the best examples is the vacation rental debate,” Rankin said, referencing recent changes to the city’s land use code that restrict the placement of rentals. “Ten years ago, you couldn’t do this, but with better technology, you can Google ‘Bend’ and find a place on VRBO. We’re, as a city, evolving to meet these changes.”
Rankin said when planners end up addressing the city’s waxing tourism market “the issues come under the lens of livability.” At the same time, he pointed out that “the reason Bend has such a vibrant downtown” is because the economy is sized to fit the constant presence of tourists.
“The question becomes, ‘How do we strike the right balance?’ And what the City Council is doing is focusing on both livability and economic development,” Rankin said. “It’s interesting to see, because on one hand, you’re looking to manage and (mitigate) the impact from visitors, and with economic development, the goal is to create more middle-class jobs that may not be created in a tourism-only economy. The idea is to work on both at the same time.”
— Reporter: 541-633-2160, firstname.lastname@example.org