Selling Snohomish County

IT HAS A REPUTATION as an area with lots of places to stop, but only one place to go. The Tourism Bureau is making efforts to correct that image.

Everett has little to offer the tourist, save a stroll past some old houses, sneers one travel guide.

Snohomish County what? shrugs another.

As Seattle's growing cousin to the north, Snohomish County suffers from an identity crisis when it comes to tourism.

If travelers who visit the Pacific Northwest don't confuse the county with Snoqualmie or Skykomish or even Lake Sammamish, they know it as little more than a couple of ferry docks or a string of gas-and-go towns between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C.

It's a place they might stop for food, fuel and places to sleep, along the way fueling the county's economy to the tune of $372 million last year. Only three counties in the state raked in more tourism dollars.

But with a few exceptions, such as Boeing's Everett plant, Snohomish County's tourism industry is built on the back of the accidental tourist.

So the newly formed Snohomish County Tourism Bureau is poised to market Snohomish County as a destination, a place people take the freeway to rather than through.

Tourism officials want mere mention of the name - like the Oregon coast or the San Juan Islands - to evoke a tourist-friendly image.

But a quick waltz through the tour-guide section of your local bookstore shows the county has a long way to go.

"Apart from a few large turn-of-the-century mansions overlooking the extensive waterfront, (Everett) is a thoroughly blue-collar place with little to attract visitors," says "Road Trip USA: Cross-Country Adventures on America's Two-Lane Highways.

"The one exception is the huge Boeing assembly plant on the southwest edge of town."

Other guides completely ignore the area, skipping from Seattle to the San Juans, with perhaps a mere dalliance in Skagit County or a paragraph's mention of the Boeing plant.

At 115,000 visitors per year, the Boeing plant is Snohomish County's biggest tourism destination. The numbers are up 14 percent this year, says Doug Webb, a Boeing spokesman.

On any given summer day, 900 people cram into buses for the 90-minute tour through one of the nation's largest buildings. During the peak season, tickets to the free public tour are snapped up by 8 a.m. Dozens wait on standby for the hourly tour of the 98-acre building, a structure so big it could hold the equivalent of 10 1/2 Kingdomes, according to Boeing.

On one morning last week, the standby list included visitors from England, Indonesia and Canada.

Most were traveling between Vancouver and Seattle. Few planned extended stays in Snohomish County. Fewer still knew they were in Snohomish County or had heard of its attractions.

Joan Baird and her traveling companions from Edmonton, Alberta, for example, had left from Vancouver that morning, stopped for a meal in Bellingham and pulled into the Boeing plant for a 1 p.m. tour. They planned to hit the road after the tour to avoid rush-hour traffic.

Stephen Pudjijanto of San Francisco, with his parents from Indonesia, was about to give up on getting on the tour and continue the journey . . . to Vancouver.

Did he consider a prolonged stay in Snohomish County?

"No, not really," Pudjijanto said, brandishing a Fodor's Magazine tour guide, open to the page detailing the Boeing tour. "We just looked at the tour guide."

The guide didn't say a word about Snohomish County as a destination. It didn't say a word about the summer festivals that proliferate throughout the county, the character of small towns such as Darrington, Maltby or Snohomish, the scenic Mountain Loop Highway or the the many outdoor recreational opportunities.

County `presence' sought

That, says Sandy Ward, the county's tourism director, is exactly the problem: "Snohomish County hasn't had a presence on the menu."

And that, Ward says, is where she and the tourism bureau come in.

Funded by a 2 percent tax on hotel and motel rooms in Snohomish County, the tourism bureau, with an annual budget of $216,000, acts as an umbrella organization for 19 cities in the county.

Its job, in addition to answering the questions of visitors who stop by its tourism center next to the Holiday Inn south of Everett on I-5, is to put Snohomish County on the tourism map.

To that end, the bureau is on the hunt for a marketing firm that will develop an image for Snohomish County and a design motif to adorn its tourism literature, ads and packets of information mailed all over the country.

The key to boosting tourism in the county is luring travel writers, like the one who detailed a journey from Seattle to the North Cascades and back for U.S. News & World Report's 1996 "Best Drives" issue.

But Robert Kemp lingered a little too long in Scenic Hot Springs off Highway 2, near Stevens Pass, which just happens to be in King County.

"Before I arrived at the spring, I had intended to spend the remains of the day stopping at every charming town on Highway 2 back to Seattle - like Index, with the old Bush House Country Inn (famous for its Sunday brunch) and Snohomish, whose main street includes antique shops and the restored 1894 Oxford Saloon," he writes. "But after an hour sampling several tubs, I abandoned my plans."

Plan to take out ads

Even if writers never make it to Snohomish County to sample that famous Bush House brunch or the generous helpings at the Maltby Cafe - home of what USA Today called some of the best home cooking in the nation - Ward says the bureau plans to take out ads in the guidebooks.

"We want to get to them before they make their decision," she says, holding up a copy of the AAA's Washington state travel guide (adorned on its cover with a photograph of Skagit County's La Conner), "when they're sitting in their comfortable living room in Ohio."

Back at the Boeing plant, some travelers to Snohomish County didn't like what they saw. The Olshers of Santa Fe, N.M., loved Seattle but not Everett.

"Seattle had so much energy," Lesley Olsher said. "Everett needs to work on getting out information. Nobody knew what was going on."

Ward cringes upon hearing what the Olshers had to say about Snohomish County. But the day will come, she says confidently, when that will change. It just takes some promotion.

"Even Everett's getting cute," Ward says.


What to see in Snohomish County.

Here is a list of the top 10 things tourists like to visit or do in Snohomish County, based on requests made to the county's tourism bureau south of Everett:

-- Visit the Boeing Tour Center in Everett.

-- Take state ferries from Edmonds and Mukilteo.

-- Watch for whales and other wildlife on Puget Sound, bird-watch in Spencer Island County Park in Everett.

-- "Get to the mountains" on the Mountain Loop Highway (Highway 2 and Highway 530).

-- Bicycle on the Interurban Trail in Lynnwood and Everett, and the Centennial Trail in Snohomish and Lake Stevens; hike in the Cascades.

-- Visit the Edmonds, Mukilteo and Everett waterfronts, and Wallace Falls State Park, Deception Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and Sunset Falls.

-- Shop, including at Alderwood and Everett malls, and at the "Antique Capital" of Snohomish.

-- Learn about Native-American culture and visit the tribal museum in Marysville; gamble at the Tulalip Casino.

-- Experience art, history and culture at the Snohomish County Historical Museum in Everett, the Everett Performing Arts Center, galleries in Edmonds and Everett, and theaters in Edmonds (Edge of the World Theatre, Driftwood Players, Wade James Theatre) and Monroe (Off the Wall Theatre, Take a Bow Productions).

-- Take driving tours, including the Mountain Loop Highway.

- Kyle Wood