Death Valley traffic boost benefits IWV

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Death Valley traffic boost benefits IWVRecord-high crowds trekked to Death Valley for the 2016 Super Bloom — only to have that benchmark for visitors broken again in 2017. — Courtesy photo

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Despite the temporary closure of several key attractions, Death Valley National Park announced a boost in both visitor traffic and spending for the second year in a row.

For Ridgecrest — one of the closest communities that offers full-service hospitality to park travelers — that means a boost to the local economy as well.

“The Death Valley numbers are very large, and rarely do they get disseminated enough,” said Dan Spurgeon, general manager of SpringHill Suites. “While the majority of the revenues they speak about is spent in the park, the local area hotels benefit as part of this demand-generator.”

According to a peer-reviewed spending analysis, more than 1.3 million visitors spent about $107 million in neighboring communities, supporting 1,390 local jobs.

“Death Valley welcomes visitors from across the country and around the world,” said Superintendent Mike Reynolds. “We appreciate the partnership and support of our neighbors, and are glad to be able to give back to the gateway communities.”

Spurgeon said that although his hotel does not track specific Death Valley customers as a market segment, “I am safe to suggest we enjoy, at just the SpringHill, 150 room nights a month on average.”

He estimated that over Christmas break, about two-thirds of SpringHill’s occupancy was directly related to Death Valley visitors. “And we ran about 90 percent every day that week,” said Spurgeon.

“Being the closest city west of the national park gives us an advantage to capturing the demand that is created by the park.”

Although room rates vary, conservative estimates indicate that Death Valley travelers at SpringHill spent upwards of $540,000 on lodging, food, fuel and other amenities last year.

Bill Farris Jr., who manages marketing and sales for both SpringHill and the Hampton Inn, estimated that the latter hotel adds a comparable number of room nights to the Death Valley traffic — pushing disposable spending in town upwards of $1 million annually from just those two hotels.

According to Patrick Taylor of DVNP, spring is one of the most popular months for traveling to Death Valley. “And as strange as it sounds, we get another big spike in the late July-August timeframe.”

He said that traffic is primarily international visitors. “We get a lot of travelers from European countries, China and Japan — people who are looking for a landscape they don’t have in their home countries.”

Although there have been no recent in-depth demographic studies, “Anecdotally, if you visit during those months you’re going to hear a lot of foreign languages.”

One of the drivers of recent traffic in the park, said Taylor, was the “Superbloom” in 2016, when thousands of travelers poured into Death Valley each day to see the proliferation of wildflowers in and around Badwater Basin.

The park may see another uptick this year with the recent reopening of Dante’s View — one of the most popular attractions in Death Valley. “It looks absolutely fantastic up there,” said Taylor. “The view has not changed, but with the new bronze tactile map, improved parking and seating, it looks much better than it used to.”

Flash floods in 2015 also closed Scotty’s Castle in 2015, and repairs and improvements are expected to continue until 2019 or 2020.

“I’m sure when the castle first reopens, there will be a lot of interest,” said Taylor.

“Longterm, I’m not sure how many of our visitors are here primarily to see that, but it might draw a few more people into the park, and prompt others to extend their stays with us.”

Death Valley encompasses 3.4 million acres spread across four counties and includes some of the most extreme climate and topographic conditions on the planet — including record-high temperatures and record-low elevations.

See also www.nps.gov/deva.

Story First Published: 2018-06-15