Seagulls fly by Jetty Island in Everett in 2018. Tourism officials say people from Seattle are seeking this kind of solitude when they visit Snohomish County. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

Seagulls fly by Jetty Island in Everett in 2018. Tourism officials say people from Seattle are seeking this kind of solitude when they visit Snohomish County. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

Snohomish County is a vacation hotspot — for Seattleites

People seeking relative peace and quiet are boosting the area’s third-biggest industry.

EVERETT — More guests at the Silver Cloud Inn on Mukilteo’s waterfront are urbanites seeking a respite from the hustle and bustle of the big city.

But this isn’t about harried visitors from New York or Los Angeles. Seattle residents are seeking ”peace and quiet,” said Maia Kalehua, the hotel’s general manager .

“I think more people are discovering Snohomish County,” Kalehua said. “It’s beautiful here and it’s an hour from downtown Seattle.”

New data suggest that more than 80% of visitors to Snohomish County live right down the road, so to speak.

From September to March, the majority of visitors to Snohomish County hail from the Seattle-Tacoma area, said C.J. Jones of the Snohomish County department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism.

Jones’ information comes from a study by Arrivalist, a marketing consulting firm that uses location data from mobile devices to track visitors.

After aerospace and agriculture, tourism is Snohomish County’s third-largest industry, according to a study by Dean Runyon Associates, a tourism research firm.

Last year, visitors to Snohomish County spent an estimated $1.2 billion, the Dean Runyon study said.

The Portland-based company uses traveler surveys, county and city hotel lodging tax receipts, U.S. Census Bureau data and other public sources to estimate visitor spending in each category.

Spending increased year-over-year in the seven categories measured, including food, hotel stays, retail and entertainment.

Restaurants and eateries reaped the lion’s share. Visitors spent an estimated $367 million on food and drink in 2018, up from $358 million the previous year. Spending on lodging rose to $158 million from $154 million in 2017.

Tourism and related fields employ 11,000 people and generate $24 million in local taxes and $60 million in state taxes — a significant economic driver.

“People are surprised when they learn tourism is one of our leading industries,” said Snohomish County Councilman Terry Ryan, who chairs the county lodging tax advisory committee. “It’s a really big deal for us.”

Said Kalehua: “People are coming here to hike, kayak, stand-up paddle, to get away.”

Visitors spent another $1 billion on outdoor recreation in 2017, according to another study.

Kalehua gives the Snohomish County Tourism Bureau’s new marketing slogan, “Seattle NorthCountry,” a big thumbs-up.

“Seattle NorthCountry” is intended to conjure the county’s wide-open spaces, pristine rivers and lakes, hiking trails, along with the urban corridor that stretches from Edmonds to Everett, said Amy Spain, executive director of the tourism bureau, a nonprofit marketing agency contracted by the county.

Visitor spending is forecast to be even stronger this year, due in part to the start of commercial passenger service at Everett’s new two-gate air terminal this spring and a related upswing in hotel occupancy.

Everett-based Propeller Airports, the terminal developer and manager, reported at the end of May that it had served 100,000 arriving customers and 100,000 departing ones since opening March 4.

Alaska Airlines and United Airlines operate 24 daily departures from Everett. United serves San Francisco and Denver. Alaska serves Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Orange County, Phoenix, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose. In November, Alaska will change the schedule to accommodate service to Palm Springs.

Propeller CEO Brett Smith believes that only 40% of the Puget Sound region is aware of Everett’s new passenger terminal.

A United Airlines plane arrives at Paine Field in Everett in March. Airline service here is serving happy visitors who need not endure the slog to Sea-Tac Airport. (Kevin Clark / Herald file)

A United Airlines plane arrives at Paine Field in Everett in March. Airline service here is serving happy visitors who need not endure the slog to Sea-Tac Airport. (Kevin Clark / Herald file)

The Snohomish County Airport Commission, a two-year-old voluntary advisory board, is planning community outreach this year to highlight the airport’s economic impact, seek comment on the airport’s master plan and get the word out that the airline service is in full swing.

The county plans to spend $1.6 million this year to court visitors, a $200,000 bump from last year. Those funds are generated by the county’s lodging tax, a tax on hotel and motel rooms. By law, the money can only be spent on tourism-related activity. The lodging tax committee makes recommendations on where the money should go, Ryan said.

The big goal is to increase the number of overnight visitors.

In 2018, visitors who added a hotel stay spent more than $772 million in the county, compared to day-trippers who shelled out $294 million, the Dean Runyon study estimated.

“We’re being much more aggressive in attracting tourists than ever before,” Ryan said.

At the Courtyard by Marriott in Lynnwood, which is marketed as the chain’s “Seattle North/Lynnwood Everett” location, general manager Mark Lee said that bookings are up a bit this year.

Visitors who might have spent “their last night” in a Seattle-area hotel to ensure they arrived at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on time are instead bunking locally and flying out of Paine Field, Lee said.

“A few more travelers are staying up this way,” Lee said.

That’s a good sign if the trend holds, said Spain, who directs the tourism bureau.

“Our hotels, particularly those in south county, are influenced by the occupancy levels in the Seattle area,” said Spain. “When the Seattle hotels are full, people are pushed into the outlying areas, such as Mountlake Terrace and Lynnwood.”

Competition has heated up. In the past 12 months, Seattle has added 2,000 new hotel rooms, Spain said.

“The fact that our hotels are not seeing declines is showing pretty good strength,” she said.

Still, there’s a troubling note.

Lee said he’s seeing a noticeable decline in aerospace business travelers staying at the hotel, a dropoff that began with the Boeing 737 crisis this spring.

“The Max is made in Renton, but Boeing is here,” Lee said, referring to Boeing’s massive Everett assembly plant at Paine Field.

It’s not clear if that could indicate a broader trend.

In Mukilteo, Kalehua, Silver Clouds’s general manager, said there’s been no change in the number of aerospace business travelers — the hotel’s bread-and-butter.

Nor has the launch of commercial airline service from Paine Field sparked an appreciable uptick in occupancy. But that nearer airline service has produced happy faces at the front desk, Kalehua said.

“We have a lot more happy guests,” Kalehua said. “They’re happy they can fly into Paine Field — 15 minutes away — instead of the hour-and-a half from Sea-Tac.”

Janice Podsada; jpodsada@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3097; Twitter: JanicePods

A couple stands on driftwood at the beach near Mukilteo Lighthouse Park in 2018. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

A couple stands on driftwood at the beach near Mukilteo Lighthouse Park in 2018. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)