Downtown Seattle’s tourism bounces back while its office workers remain remote

Jun 1, 2022, 7:06 AM

(Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)...

(Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

(Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Downtown Seattle had a busy holiday weekend, as it is the second most popular domestic destination for Memorial Day travelers, after Orlando, Florida, according to booking data by AAA. But office workers in the downtown area are still primarily working remotely, with downtown office occupancy stalling at around 33% since late February, according to Placer estimates.

“I think we expect a majority of them to be back. As we get into the summer and into the fall, all the surveys that we’ve done locally, the national data says very few people want to continue working exactly as they have over these last two years,” Jon Scholes, the President and CEO of the Downtown Seattle Association (DSA), said on the Gee and Ursula Show on KIRO Newsradio. “Very few individuals want to continue working remote five days a week. That’s not to say there aren’t some people who have those perspectives, but it’s really on the margins.”

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This goes against earlier pandemic predictions, where business leaders and experts believed downtown’s economic resurgence would come from workers returning to offices, followed by growth in tourism. But the opposite has occurred so far: tourism has returned to Seattle before remote workers.

Most people see themselves maintaining some time in the office and some time working remotely, according to Scholes.

At $6,783, Seattle has the second-highest average monthly salary for remote workers, according to recent data compiled by Teamwork. Seattle trails just San Francisco, Calif., while earning more than Arlington, W.Va., Dallas, Texas, and New York, N.Y.

“I would expect by late fall, a majority of downtown workers are in the office a majority of the week. That might mean three days a week for some folks or four,” Scholes said. “And it might not be eight to five. They may be showing up at 10 to skip the commute, but stay late and go to a game. And so, I think the commute patterns are going to shift. But at the end of the day, as we work our way out of this pandemic, a majority of workers are back downtown for a majority of the week.”

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Hotel occupancy is up 23% since March 2020, while Pike Place Market visitors are up nearly 60% since June 2020, according to the DSA. Originally at 76% in March 2020, office workers are still just at 34% occupancy.

“We’re in a much better spot than we were a year ago, and a much better spots than we were three months ago,” Scholes added. “There are fewer folks living in tents on the streets, we’ve seen more police presence, we’re investing in security. So that’s job number one: it’s got to be safe and welcoming for everybody.”

Listen to Gee Scott and Ursula Reutin weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Downtown Seattle’s tourism bounces back while its office workers remain remote