Hot High Desert holiday sets stage for sizzling summer

Record Memorial Day travel, with more tourists on way

High Desert hot holiday destination

BEND, Ore. - AAA predicted it, Central Oregon businesses didn't doubt it, and tourism experts confirmed it: This Memorial Day holiday weekend was a busy one on the High Desert  -- the busiest ever.

"From a tourism industry perspective, we feel like we've come out of the recession," Central Oregon Visitors Association President Alana Hughson said Tuesday. "There was a lot of last-minute bookings, so a lot of people coming over from the valley making last-minute decisions."

AAA had predicted  the 2014 holiday weekend would be the busiest since 2005, with more than 36 million Americans planning to travel 50 miles or more.

Hughson said preliminary estimates show up to 5 percent more people stayed in Central Oregon, compared to last year.

It's a good feeling for downtown Bend business owners who weathered some tough economic storms not too long ago.

"It was crazy busy, packed constantly," Cascade Cottons Manager Kelli Cima said of the holiday weekend.

Gypsy Soul employee Margaret Berg got out last year's books to compare.

"We did about 40 percent better than last year," Berg said.

The late-spring boom sets a tone for a summer that also has high expectations.

"All research that we're taking a look at indicates that we're going to have a record-breaking summer," Hughson said. "We're expecting occupancy to be up 3 to 4 percent, and the average daily rate, which is that revenue, to be up 7 to 10 percent."

In Sunriver, summer vacation rentals are already going fast.

"Reservations are already up 13 percent from last year," said Discover Sunriver Vacation Rentals owner Larry Browning. "The nice thing is people are staying longer."

In downtown Bend businesses are ramping up.

'With the increase in how busy we are, we were looking for more people. So we had to hire more for summer, which is awesome," Cima said.

With the boom in travelers, Hughson said hotel rooms are becoming more scarce, and driving room prices up. She said in some cases, hotel costs have risen about 10 percent.

Hughson said occupancy and prices should even out as resorts expand and new hotels are built.

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