Tulalip hotel aims for top-tier customers, conventions

TULALIP — The Tulalip hotel aims to attract new tourists to Snohomish County, instead of luring away guests from other local inns.

That’s been the message of the hotel’s management, even before they opened the doors this summer.

After all, the hotel is consciously aimed at a high-end crowd willing to pay the highest room rates in the county.

“It’s certainly going to complement what’s already happening here and going to add a new layer to what we have to offer,” said Caldie Rogers, president of the Greater Marysville Tulalip Chamber of Commerce.

Amy Spain, executive director of the Snohomish County Tourism Bureau, said the top-tier property could help the county attract more conventions, which in turn could help other hotels and motels in the area. For example, the hotel will be official host of about 300 Skate America participants and officials when that pre-Olympics event comes to Everett this fall.

The hotel’s debut during the peak summer season was well-timed. In its first month or so, an average of more than 80 percent of the Tulalip hotel’s rooms were occupied, said Brett Magnan, the resort’s vice president.

“We’re got reservations now into ‘09 and beyond,” he added.

The hotel’s guest numbers seems to be better than the countywide hospitality business. During June, 72 percent of the rooms across the county were occupied, according to Smith Travel Research Inc.

Rosy predictions about the new hotel’s effect on the local tourism market contrast with worries that popped up when the Tulalip Tribes first announced plans to open a large hotel. Operators of existing inns wondered how all of the county’s rooms could ever fill, especially after past experiences.

A building boom in the late 1990s, followed by a decline in tourism in the early part of this decade, left many Snohomish County inns scrambling for business.

When the tide turned in 2005, however, local hotels began setting occupancy records even as they raised their room rates.

Last year, nearly three-fourths of the county’s rooms were occupied on average, one of the highest rates in the state of Washington. It also was a huge improvement on the 54 percent occupancy rate recorded countywide in 2003, despite the fact that the county had more hotel rooms to fill up last year.

That trend, and the Tulalip Resort Casino’s goal of attracting guests who previously might have stayed only in downtown Seattle on trips to this region, gives tourism officials hope that the new hotel expands the local tourism market, instead of just dividing up the existing business. And there is some evidence to suggest that’s happening.

Magnan said the hotel is aggressively marketing itself to convention groups and has received generally positive responses. The hotel also is attracting many guests from Canada every weekend.

Marco Baumann, the hotel’s general manager, added that the hotel has gotten more business than it expected from “walk-up” traffic — typically, guests who spot the hotel while driving down I-5.

Assuming the hotel succeeds, the Tulalips are ready. Magnan said preliminary plans exist for expanding the hotel.

“We’ve already done a lot of the infrastructure for a second tower in case we decide to do it,” he said.

Reporter Eric Fetters: 425-339-3453 or fetters@heraldnet.com.

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