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Innkeepers seek extra $1 room fee to pay for tourism promotion

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By Noah Haglund
Herald Writer
EVERETT — Snohomish County advanced a plan Wednesday to charge an extra $1 each night on hotel rooms to promote local tourism.
Hoteliers have been vocal supporters of the idea, which they said could raise almost $1 million a year. Members of the industry have characterized the concept as “out-of-town guests paying to bring in more out-of-town guests.”
“It is imperative that we establish this,” said Shawn Walker, a past president of the Snohomish County Lodging Association and a representative for several local hotels. “It's going to drive more revenue into businesses.”
That doesn't just mean hotels, Walker told the County Council, but local gas stations and restaurants as well. The assessment would be on top of an existing 2 percent lodging tax. It would only apply to businesses with 50 or more rooms.
The County Council's 4-0 vote formalized the county's intent to create a tourism-promotion area under state law. Several other jurisdictions have them, including Pierce County, which started its own last month.
The council also scheduled a public hearing on the proposal for March 31. Actually creating the promotion area would require a separate vote by the council.
Local hotel industry members said they need the new assessment because state support for tourism is weak and could disappear altogether in the current round of budget cutting in Olympia.
Local hotels have suffered recently. Last year, occupancy rates in Snohomish County declined to 60.5 percent from 65.3 percent in 2008. Revenue per available room decreased by 14.9 percent during that period. An improvement is unlikely before next year, Walker said.
Already, hotels representing more than 60 percent of the rooms in the proposed tourism area have said they would support the plan, said Amy Spain, Snohomish County Tourism Bureau director. Cities would need to agree to participate in the county plan for the new charge to apply to businesses within their city limits.
On Wednesday, Councilman Dave Somers said he welcomed the proposal.
“I think it's really commendable that the industry has stepped forward to self-assess a program like this,” he said. “It's really unusual and commendable that we have a group coming forward and saying we can do this.”
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465,
Story tags » County CouncilTourismLocal

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