MONROE — About 40,000 visitors passed through east Snohomish County last year along U.S. 2, according to a new study. Of those, around 9,500 stopped off in Monroe to see what the town has to offer.
The community is banking on the prospect that there will be many more in the years to come, and is experiencing a boom in bed and breakfast rentals.
Getting folks to turn off the highway and head downtown is an early priority, as the city of about 19,000 starts to revise its approach to tourism.
“I think people have a tendency to pass us by or just stop at McDonald’s, without realizing there’s a whole other area that’s unique,” Monroe city administrator Deborah Knight said.
The study, which Knight presented at Monday’s Monroe council meeting, covered all of Snohomish County, with individual reports given out to cities. The report comes as the county re-brands itself as Seattle NorthCountry.
Formerly known as Snohomish County, a new tourism campaign has rebranded the area as a nearby getaway for visitors to Seattle.
“When people want to come to this area, they’re Googling ‘Seattle,’” Knight said. “Nobody travels for a county. You visit a metropolitan area and try and spend several days exploring that area.”
Seattle NorthCountry is broken into four parts. Monroe is part of the Skykomish and Snohomish river valleys, with Lake Stevens, Snohomish, Sultan, Gold Bar, Index and Skykomish.
Monroe has been working to promote tourism with other cities along the rivers for more than a year.
According to the report, the busiest time for tourism in Monroe is August — the same time as the Evergreen State Fair.
The challenge for Monroe going forward is translating the fair’s draw to all areas of town, and times of the year.
New signs pointing to areas like Lake Tye Park and downtown, plus year-round events could help, Knight said.
The report also found a spike in the number of AirBnBs and VRBOs in town. These companies let homeowners rent out spare rooms or entire properties.
There are 78 such rentals in town, compared to nearly half that in 2016. Prior to that, there were only a handful.
Jeff Amsberry, owner of Amsberry Painting located in town, started restoring an old Tudor house on Main Street about 12 years ago.
Since then, he’s rented it out for reunions, meetings and prayer services. He said it’s kind of famous in the area and most of his business comes from locals.
It wasn’t until a few months ago that he listed the home, which sleeps eight to 10, on VRBO at $133 a night.
“We’ve used VRBOs and AirBnBs when we travel and thought it would be a neat way to show people what was inside and rent it out,” Amsberry said.
And business has been good, he said.
The house has been on the site for two or three months and December is mostly booked, with large chunks of January also reserved.
“We’re kind of a gateway to the Cascades,” Amsberry said.
In November, another family rented the house for Thanksgiving dinner.
Both Amsberry and Knight said the influx of rentals gives Monroe luxury stay options it didn’t have before.
People have often stayed in Bothell to have a quality hotel experience, Knight said.
“Lots of activities happen at the fairgrounds and the hotels can’t really keep up,” Amsberry said. “If you have the choice of staying in an entire home or a room without a kitchen, and the price is basically the same, it’s a pretty easy decision.”
But before the report, AirBnB and VRBO weren’t on the city’s radar, Knight said.
The report was put together by Arrivalist, a New York- and San Francisco-based travel analytics company.
Arrivalist uses data from mobile phones to track where people spend time. The company says it collects the data anonymously from devices and doesn’t process personal information.
Going forward, the city can buy the full data set from Arrivalist for $2,850. For an extra $500 per location, the city can pinpoint specific areas of town to focus on, like Lake Tye, North Kelsey Street and the fairgrounds.
Knight said she expects the city to go forward with those proposals early next year.