Passengers on the shady westbound end of the ferry from Mukilteo to Clinton on Whidbey Island watch and photograph the eastbound ferry, which gleams in the early morning sun. State ferries are popular with tourists.. “When you picture Snohomish County, that’s kind of the iconic image, the ferries with the mountains in the background,” Snohomish County Tourism director Amy Spain said.

Tourism dollars flowing into county, new report confirms

LYNNWOOD — The amount of money travelers spend annually in Snohomish County is more than two and half times what it was 20 years ago. Spending was up to $993 million in 2014, up from $372 million in 1996. Calculations for 2015 are expected soon.

The biggest growth happened in overnight stays, meals at restaurants and travel and fuel expenses, according to data from the Snohomish County Tourism Bureau, a marketing agency contracted by the county.

“This is the result of a number of things coming together at just the right time,” director Amy Spain said. “I’m so proud of our staff here at the bureau.”

The Snohomish County Tourism Bureau has tracked visitors and spending since 1996. Market research firm Dean Runyan Associates calculates annual spending estimates and the bureau works with visitor centers around the county to add up how many people stop in for directions or advice on things to do.

The Future of Flight Aviation Center draws history and airplane enthusiasts from around the world, Spain said. People also are lured in by hiking trails along the Mountain Loop Highway and U.S. 2 or the beaches and ferries in Edmonds and Mukilteo.

“When you picture Snohomish County, that’s kind of the iconic image, the ferries with the mountains in the background,” Spain said.

Outdoor recreation and agritourism are key pieces for Snohomish County. In recent years, the tourism bureau also has focused on bringing in sporting events such as the Pacific Rim gymnastics competition that took place earlier this month in Everett.

Events or activities that require overnight travel are the biggest money makers, according to the bureau’s 2015 visitors’ report. Overnighters spend nearly five times as much as day-trippers. On average, there are two travelers per group and they stay two or three nights, during which they spend about $512.

Restaurants make the most off of tourists — $289.4 million in 2014. Visitors spent $152.5 million on transportation and fuel, $196 million at stores, $130.6 million on places to stay and $130.5 million on recreation and entertainment.

Spain is presenting the annual report at City Council and Chamber of Commerce meetings. It’s a way to show the value of tourism and spark interest in recreation projects such as mountain biking trails going in near Darrington or the proposed Sky to Sound water trail along the Skykomish and Snohomish rivers, she said.

Volunteers and staff at visitor centers around the county helped 107,651 people last year. The bureau runs centers at Lynnwood’s Heritage Park, in downtown Snohomish and at the Future of Flight Aviation Center. The organization also works with centers run by cities or chambers of commerce, providing training for volunteers and tracking countywide trends. It took 79 volunteers a total of 11,000 hours to keep the bureau’s visitor centers open.

About a quarter of the people who stopped for information in 2015 live in Snohomish County or nearby.

The other three-quarters traveled from more than 50 miles away. Four out of every 10 were from other countries, mostly Canada, China, Japan, Australia or Germany.

Canadian travelers are important for tourism, Spain said. Changes in exchange rate between Canadian and U.S. dollars affects how many Canadians cross the border for shopping or travel.

“With the drop in the value of the Canadian dollar compared to the American dollar, we’ve seen less Canadian travelers, which is concerning to us,” Spain said.

However, a strong Seattle market pushes other visitors out to Snohomish County for a place to stay or things to do, she said.

The bureau has projects in the works to expand local tourism. Electronic kiosks for tourists to search travel and recreation opportunities were put in at Future of Flight, the Lynnwood Convention Center and the Tulalip Resort about a year ago.

“Part of the strategy shift is to be where the people are, where they’ve gathered for another purpose,” Spain said.

This year, the focus is on a series of rural tourism workshops where trainers talk with business owners and leaders in the Snohomish, Skykomish, Sauk and Stillaguamish river valleys. Topics include: outdoor adventure travel; small town experiences and cultural tourism; bicycle tourism and outdoor recreation; and culinary and agriculture-based tourism. The series started in February and is scheduled to wrap up in May with planning sessions.

“We’ll take all of the information we have so far and say, ‘OK, where do we go from here?’” Spain said. “When we’re done with the workshops, that’s when the real work begins.”

County officials also are working on an update to the county’s strategic tourism plan, a document that gets reviewed every five years.

For more information about tourism and travel in Snohomish County, or to view the annual reports, go to the bureau’s website at snohomish.org.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

By the numbers

Tourist spending in Snohomish County

YearSpending

2010$797.6 million

2011$880 million

2012$875.8 million

2013$930.2 million

2014$992.9 million

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