We're #4: Snohomish County lags in visitor spending

But there are many successes, which Edmonds shares in
By Brian Soergel | Jun 08, 2017
Photo by: Brian Soergel The ferries and the Edmonds Marina both help to draw visitors to town.

Although Snohomish County is the third most populous county in the state, it ranks fourth in visitor spending, according to a report prepared for the Washington State Destination Marketing Association.

King and Pierce counties are No. 1 and 2 in population and visitor spending.

Spokane County, with 250,000 fewer residents that Snohomish, according to U.S. Census 2012 estimates, was third.

Why the disparity?

According to Angie Riley, marketing and communications manager for the Snohomish County Tourism Bureau, the simple answer is that Spokane County has a commercial airport and more funding.

Numbers from 2016 bear that out. Spokane County collected $11.2 million in taxes in overnight lodging, compared to Snohomish County’s $6.5 million. Spokane County’s budget for the year was $4.1 million, with 36.6 percent of collected lodging taxes going to the Spokane County Tourism Bureau.

Snohomish County Tourism Bureau’s budget for 2016 was $1.2 million, with 18.5 percent of collected lodging taxes going to the bureau.

“Spokane collects $2 per night of Tourism Promotional Area taxes to our $1 per night,” Riley said. “They also collect a larger overall percentage of lodging tax than we do. We are getting really great results despite our limited funding. Just imagine what Snohomish County's visitor spending numbers could be if we had a fully funded tourism bureau.”

Numbers may tip a little to Snohomish County’s favor soon, even if just a little. On Monday, June 5, officials broke ground on a new commercial passenger terminal at Paine Field in Everett.

Propeller Airports will build and operate the terminal, and Alaska Airlines already has announced it will fly from the terminal when it opens in fall 2018.

Still, there is an abundance of good news for Snohomish County.

The Washington State County Travel Impacts and Visitor Volume report for 1991-2016 found that travel spending in Snohomish County topped $1.04 billion in 2016 – a year-over-year increase of 2.8 percent. Tourism is Snohomish County’s second largest industry.

Direct tourism-related jobs employ 10,850 people in the county, contributing $297.2 million in payroll, $21.7 million in local taxes and $54.3 million in state taxes.

“Tourism and outdoor recreation in Snohomish County is a significant contributor to our local economy,” said Amy Spain, Snohomish County Tourism Bureau executive director.

“The things that make Snohomish County a great place for visitors also make it a great place to live.”

Edmonds’ contribution

The city of Edmonds provides an annual contribution of $6,400 to the Snohomish County Tourism Bureau to promote tourism to Edmonds and the vicinity.

During a recent presentation to the Edmonds City Council, Spain said that visitors to the state spent nearly $21.4 billion in 2016, accounting for $1.9 billion in local and state tax revenues and creating more than 177,000 jobs.

As reported by Smith Travel Research, Snohomish County ranked third in occupancy rate behind King and Clark counties, with 68.9 percent in 2016.

Patrick Doherty, Edmonds’ director of economic development, says what we all know – there aren’t many lodging options within city limits. (There is Best Western Harbor Inn by the water, and six on Highway 99.)

Many of those who visit Edmonds stay in Lynnwood. Edmonds does have an increasing number of Airbnb locations, which collect lodging taxes and pay them directly to the city.

And, he added, the hotel and motel tax has increased and continues to grow, and the city’s new economic impact study of arts and culture will provide more specific information on where tourists’ dollars go.

“Tourism, however, is about much more than hotel stays,” Spain said. “Tourism is a key economic development strategy, and positively impacts a cross section of businesses and reaches all communities in Snohomish County. Travel spurs growth, builds a strong tax base and creates jobs that cannot be outsourced.”

One business that has certainly brought tourist dollars to Edmonds is Puget Sound Express.

Doherty said that it is now the main whale-watching tour for the Seattle area, and provides two excursions per day year-round. When Puget Sound Express started two years ago, it boarded 5,000 passengers. That number rose to 11,000 in 2016, and is expected to increase to between 18,000-20,000 by the end of this year.

Because of this, Puget Sound Express – which departs from the Port of Edmonds Marina – is now building a boat twice the size of its main one, Doherty said. That boat, the Chilkat Express, is the fastest whale-watching boat in the Northwest at close to 40 mph.

The Port is increasingly working to capitalize on its location – close to Seattle but not too close – with its slogan of “Your homeport advantage and choice destination.” It is remodeling its public restroom – it will have showers – and hired a properties and marketing manager, Brittany Williams.

Visitors who dock in Edmonds receive a booklet filled with discounts from Edmonds restaurants, shops and businesses.

Not fully funded

In spite of the good numbers overall for the state, Spain said Washington is the only state in the country without a fully funded tourism marketing program. (California’s tourism budget is $62 million a year.)

But there is a measure before the Washington State Legislature that would create an industry-led Tourism Marketing Authority.

“Travel promotion is a wise strategic investment,” the report said. “It kicks off a virtuous cycle of increased traveler visits, greater traveler spending in local businesses, faster job creation and higher tax revenues that far surpass the initial investment.”

The Washington state economy saw robust growth in 2016, which stimulated in-state consumer confidence and many industries in the state, the report said.

“The pace of overall tourism growth slowed, however, and Washington has dropped in stature from the state’s fourth largest industry to fifth largest. While state residents are helping sustain tourism in their own backyard, Washington is failing to attract out-of-state visitors at comparable rates to competing states.

“Competing Western states continue to invest significantly in tourism as a driver of jobs, economic impact and relief for communities that incur natural disasters and other crises. Oregon plans to double its state tourism budget over the coming biennium to $76 million."



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