By Debra Smith HBJ Freelance Writer
EVERETT — Snohomish County tourism felt the hard pinch of the economic downturn just like every other industry.
The latest numbers on hotel occupancy indicate the local hospitality industry is on the mend.
In Snohomish County, more rooms were filled in 2012 than the year before, and hotels were able to command higher rates for those rooms, according to Smith Travel Research, a company that tracks data for the hotel industry.
“We’re not back to where we were pre-recession,” said Amy Spain, executive director of Snohomish County Tourism Bureau. “But we are doing better and better each year.”
In this county, hotels started to feel the recession in late 2008 as the U.S. economy teetered on collapse, Spain said. High-end resorts and convention venues felt it first as companies cut back on business travel and other travelers opted for less expensive accommodations — or to stay home.
In 2008, revenue per available room (RevPar) was $60 countywide, according to Smith Travel Research. RevPar measures how well a hotel is performing by taking into account both occupancy and room revenue.
RevPar dropped to nearly $50 and $51 the following two years. In 2012, it climbed back up to just under $62.
Occupancy rates countywide in 2012 were 66.5 percent. That’s a little more than a percentage point better than in 2008 and an improvement over 2011 (65.4 percent).
The big improvement between 2011 and 2012 is revenue. The average daily rate last year was nearly $93, up from $85 in 2011.
“The revenue is where Snohomish County made the greatest improvement with hotels managing their rates and inventories more productively,” Spain said.
The recession didn’t hurt Embassy Suites in Lynnwood as much as other area hotels because the hotel caters mainly to business travelers, said Julie Horrigan, director of sales. In 2009, the hotel did see a dip in its average daily rates, which is in line with what other hotels saw throughout the county. Those have returned to pre-recession levels.
Typically, rooms are full in the middle of the week with business travelers, while families begin filling up rooms on Fridays.
“We’re a very popular location for families traveling from Canada,” she said.
Generally, the Pacific Northwest hospitality industry has weathered the downturn better than other areas of the country, Spain said.
Partly, that’s because Western Washington didn’t have any warm weather travelers to lose. While Seattle remains a popular business destination, it doesn’t offer the mega convention facilities that some other cities depend on such as Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles or Orlando, Fla.
Boeing-related travel also gave a boost to Snohomish County. As the recession dragged on, businesses realized they needed to get their people back in front of clients.
Other people were still traveling for pleasure, but they were just staying closer to home.
“Americans feel like travel is their birth right,” Spain said. “It may not be an international destination but people still want to get out of town.”
The Snohomish County Tourism Bureau is wrapping up a research project into who travels to the area and why. They’ve found the greatest number of travelers come from Canada — particularly Vancouver, B.C. — Seattle and Portland, Ore. Those travelers are primarily interested in shopping and outdoor recreation, she said.