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Originally published February 29, 2012 at 12:01 PM | Page modified March 1, 2012 at 11:20 AM

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Visitors spend $5.9 billion in Seattle area in 2011

Tourism spending in Seattle and King County rebounded slightly in 2011, according to a new report from Seattle's Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Seattle Times travel writer

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Tourism spending in Seattle and King County rebounded slightly in 2011, with nearly 10 million travelers spending $5.9 billion, up 6.6 percent, according to a report commissioned by Seattle's Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Adjusted for inflation, spending rose about 2 percent from 2010, said bureau President and CEO Tom Norwalk, a figure he said "reflects the reality" of continuing hard economic times for business and leisure travel.

"It's a long road back in terms of spending to get back to where we were in 2007 and 2008," when tourism spending, adjusted for inflation, was growing 6 to 8 percent, he said in an interview Wednesday. "It's going to take awhile to get back."

The number of overnight visitors rose 3.6 percent in 2011, according to the report compiled for the bureau by Dean Runyan Associates. Tourism-generated state and local tax revenues totaled $463 million, up 6.6 percent.

Norwalk said he is confident that visitor numbers and spending will continue to improve.

"We've got the momentum," he said, noting that the bureau estimates the number of people attending conventions in Seattle will be around 165,000 this year, up 8 percent over 2011.

Among those coming is a group of 5,000 elementary-school principals in March.

Attracting more foreign visitors is critical, he said, because they stay longer and spend more.

The number of business and leisure travelers coming to the Seattle area from China rose 51 percent last year to 38,000.

"I think we're going to see (the number of visitors coming from) China growing 40 to 50 percent over the next four or five years," Norwalk said.

Carol Pucci:

On Twitter @carolpucci.

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