County tourism bureau doing more with less

Executive director provides update to Monroe City Council

Kelly Sullivan

The Snohomish County Tourism Bureau last year helped pump $19.5 million into Monroe’s economy.

Aside from dollars, the agency plays a large role in the industry at a local and regional level. 

The bureau’s executive director Amy Spain presented the agency’s financial impacts and other findings from the 2016 Annual Report at last week’s Monroe City Council meeting.

Various studies show the tourism industry as a whole creates between $1-2 billion in revenue for Snohomish County each year.

“No matter how you slice it, outdoor recreation and tourism in Snohomish County and to the city of Monroe is significant,” Spain told the council on Tuesday, May 10.

The county’s related revenue was up 2.8 percent from 2015. Roughly $1.04 billion came from food, transportation, lodging and retail purchases, as well as recreation, entertainment and groceries.

That estimate is from an annual report by Dean Runyan Associates, a research firm that conducts visitor spending and economic research nationwide, Spain said. Another study conducted by the Washington State Blue Ribbon Task Force on Parks and Outdoor Recreation assessed the county’s revenue at closer to $2 billion, she said. 

The tourism bureau is contracted by Snohomish County to promote the area through marketing, sales organization and community partnerships, according to the bureau. The bureau also offers training courses to local businesses and visitor centers, including the Monroe Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center, on how to advertise their operations within the industry.

“The purpose of the tourism bureau is quite simply economic development through tourism,” Spain said.

The bureau’s budget is roughly $1.4 million for both marketing and a visitors center information program, according to the 2016 annual report. Expenditures are less than the Tri-Cities’s roughly $2.2 million budget, Pierce County’s roughly $2.3 million budget, Yakima County’s roughly $2.6 million budget and the $4.8 million spent by Spokane County.

“I do want to point out that we are a very efficient organization,” Spain said.

Compared to those and other counties, Snohomish County’s budget is the smallest in terms of dollars the agency helps bring into the local economy, according to the report, or “the highest return on investment,” Spain said.

Nearly 11,000 jobs in Snohomish County were associated with tourism in 2016, according to the report. Through promotion and networking of events, the bureau filled 14,238 hotel rooms in Monroe last year. Hotel occupancy throughout Snohomish County was up 2.4 percent.

Spain explained overnight stays have a much bigger economic impact than when a visitor only comes to the area during the day. The tourism bureau targets events that will encourage more extended visits, she said. 

Councilmember Patsy Cudaback asked if there was a way to increase traffic in town when the Evergreen State Fair is taking place. 

Spain said the city’s lodging is completely booked during the annual August event. That means much more than the revenue from the hotel room. That also goes for the other events held at the grounds year round.

“All your hotels are full at that time, so whether they are vendors or visitors, horsemen, people coming to the concerts or what have you,” she said. “Your hotels are full during the fair days, and so those people who are staying there are going to your restaurants, your shops and other things outside of the fairgrounds.”

Councilmember Jason Gamble commended the partnerships the bureau has with local sports programs in Monroe. He also inquired about the agency’s association with the Monroe School District.

The bureau’s sports marketing manager Tammy Dunn said she has built a very solid relationship with district administration. In April 2015, the school district applied for a Tourism Promotion Area grant that would help fund Monroe High School’s new ballfields, which opened March 14.

Staff at the tourism bureau helped assess the economic impacts of the fresh facilities to supplement the application. They found that future events hosted on the ballfields could generate 1,350 more overnight stays in town per year.

Dunn said the tourism bureau also focuses on local projects, such as improving recreational opportunities. Monroe has about 10 recreational ballfields that bring visitors to the city. Working closely with the Monroe Parks and Recreation Department to promote those facilities has been a major asset for both agencies, she said.

Countywide, 95,000 tourists were served at bureau-run visitor centers last year, according to the report. Web traffic on the bureau’s site was up 17 percent, and hotel and motel tax revenue increased 2.8 percent.

Spain said this year the House and Senate have introduced bills that would create a statewide tourism management program. Currently, no single entity has a sustainable model to effectively promote the industry. Part of promoting the importance of the tourism bureau is to encourage residents to call their legislators and push for more state assistance, she said.

File photo: The Snohomish County Tourism Board reports the tourism industry is generating $1-$2 billion in annual revenue, depending on the study.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment