(Ashland, Ore.) — Most tourists who visited southern Oregon during the smoky summers of 2017 and 2018 plan to return for future trips, but a majority will modify their plans to account for the possibility of more smoke, according to a new survey by the Southern Oregon University Research Center (SOURCE).
SOURCE’s 39-page “Southern Oregon Visitor Smoke Survey” is one of two reports that were combined by Travel Southern Oregon to create the booklet, “Southern Oregon Wildfire and Visitor Perception Study.” The SOURCE survey was emailed to 8,449 people who visited southern Oregon during the summers of 2017 or 2018, and 1,905 completed the questionnaire – a response rate of 22.5 percent.
“We at SOURCE are very excited about our survey results,” said Eva Skuratowicz, director of the independent, self-supporting research arm of SOU. “We believe that it is the first rigorous, methodologically sound research about southern Oregon visitor behavior and wildfires (and) smoke from wildfires.”
Both the SOURCE study and the second report – a focus-group study with visitors from Portland and San Francisco, conducted by a Portland business consulting firm – were funded in part by a grant from the Oregon governor’s office and administered by the travel bureau.
Travel Southern Oregon’s findings were presented last week to Oregon’s congressional representatives in Washington, D.C., and will also be shared with state legislators.
Smoke from last summer’s wildfire season resulted in 26 canceled or impacted outdoor performances at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and $2 million in lost revenue. Visits to Crater Lake National Park dropped by 14 percent in July and August, compared to previous summers, and a wide variety of business owners reported lost sales that were attributed to the smoke.
The SOURCE smoke survey sampled the perceptions of visitors to two geographic regions in southern Oregon: Medford/Ashland; and an area encompassing the Klamath Basin, Middle and Upper Rogue River, and the Umpqua Valley. The regional reports produced similar patterns of results.
About 85 percent of those who visited either of the areas intend to return for future visits to southern Oregon, but about 72 percent said they would take into account wildfire smoke in deciding when to visit. A majority of those said they will not visit when there are wildfires or smoke in the region, and several said they would consider visiting in seasons other than summer.
A total of 541 respondents in the smoke survey chose to answer a final, open-ended question that asked for any other relevant comments. Of those, 144 did not consider wildfire smoke to be a deal-breaker when deciding whether to visit the area again.
“We saw two plays at the Bowmer theater but chose not to see the plays at Ashland High School,” said one respondent who came to Ashland to attend the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
“We did enjoy some lovely meals in local restaurants and shopped a little, but could not fly fish, ride bikes or hike as we usually do,” the same person wrote. “We usually visit every-other year and love the area. We have been coming to Ashland for 40 years and anticipate coming back.”
However, 91 of those who answered the final question considered the smoke a significant problem and said they would travel elsewhere or alter their southern Oregon itineraries because of wildfire concerns.
“I know you can’t control fires, but they made for an unpleasant portion of our trip,” one person said. “I did, however, enjoy my visit to the southern Oregon coast.”
Another respondent planned to “move our visits earlier in July – trying to plan around possible smoke.”