Tourist tax promotes Cambria tourism

March 22, 2012 

North Coast lodging and tourism executives are spending funds paid by their guests to upgrade two Chamber of Commerce websites and otherwise help stimulate overnight tourist visits here.

As of mid-February, Cambria Tourism Board and San Simeon Tourism Alliance had accumulated more than $650,000 between them to help promote local events and make it easier for potential travelers to learn about the beauty of the area, activities offered and available services, such as restaurants, shops and, yes, lodgings. Funds are kept separate for each community.

The two boards, with final approval by the county Board of Supervisors, can allocate their funds toward promoting selected projects, programs and events that will help promote tourism and positively impact lodging occupancy in their areas, particularly during the slow seasons.

If events or projects can be shown to have a direct effect on overnight stays, organizers are encouraged to submit applications for funding. For instance, Cambria’s Scarecrow Festival received a nearly $2,600 grant for promotion last year, and the Cambria board approved in January about $4,500 in 2012 festival funding.

The Cambria board will pay Verdin Marketing Ink up to $63,750 to redesign the Cambria Chamber of Commerce website, County supervisors approved that expenditure Jan. 10.

The San Simeon alliance authorized on Jan. 18 paying Verdin $24,500 for the second phase (the first phase cost $4,500) of upgrading the San Simeon chamber’s Website, www.SanSimeonChamber . org.

That expense, too, must be authorized by county supervisors, since the board and the alliance function as arms of the county’s Tourism Business Improvement District (CBID).

The two North Coast tourism groups are funded from special assessments that are above and beyond the normal transient occupancy tax (TOT) paid by overnight visitors. The county collects and doles out that money.

Each member lodging —motel, hotel, bed-andbreakfast inn or vacation rental — in 10 different unincorporated areas of the county adds 2 percent to its normal TOT charges.

Half that goes into the coffers of the countywide Business Improvement District (CBID), and the remainder goes back to the local board help bring overnight visitors to the area where the assessment was collected.

So when, for instance, a Cambria motel adds 2 percent to a guest’s bill, 1 percent goes into CBID’s coffers to promote overnight outings to those regions. The other 1 percent flows into to the Cambria Tourism Board’s bank account, again promoting more North Coast visits — and, indirectly, future stays in that motel.

If you do the math, it all adds up to a healthy chunk of change.

According to Cheryl Cuming, chief administrative officer of the county group, those 10 regions — Cambria, San Simeon, Ragged Point, Cayucos, unincorporated Morro Bay/Morro Strand, Los Osos/Baywood Park, Avila Beach, Oceano, Nipomo, unincorporated Arroyo Grande Valley and Lopez Lake, and unincorporated San Luis Obispo/Edna Valley — include 805 lodging members: 18 bed-andbreakfast inns, 78 hotels or motels and 705 vacation rental homes.

Seven of those areas have their own boards, including Cambria and San Simeon. For details, go to

Cuming estimated that Cambria’s 1 percent produced an average of $22,189 per month in 2010-2011 for the board to spend to boost overnight stays.

At last month’s meetings, she told the boards that San Simeon’s TOT is up 3.7 percent year to date, and Cambria’s TOT for January-September 2011 was up by 5 percent over the previous year.

Cuming said countywide TOT was up by 8 percent, which beat the increases for Santa Barbara (7.4 percent) and Monterey (3.7 percent) counties.

As of its February newsletter, the county Tourism Business Improvement District listed Cambria ($435,000) and San Simeon ($241,000) with the most money in their coffers, ahead of Avila ($212,000), Cayucos ($146,000) and Edna Valley ($6,600).

Cuming reported in February that member lodgings in the Cambria Tourism Board include 25 hotels or motels, 12 bed-and-breakfasts and 337 vacation rental homes are in Cambria. (However, only 163 of those vacation rentals have active profiles on, the CBID’s website.)

San Simeon has 21 lodging properties, she said.

Mary Ann Carson, executive director of the Cambria chamber, and Ken Cooper, owner of the Bluebird Motel, Cambria board member and president of the Central Coast Motel Association, said they’re not aware of any up-to-the-minute count of rooms on the North Coast, in part because it’s so difficult to keep such a list current. Lodgings change hands, open or close, or make changes to their accommodations.

However, they estimated separately that in Cambria and San Simeon combined, there are about 1,000 motel, hotel and bed-and-breakfast rooms for overnight stays, plus vacation rentals.

Members of the Cambria Tourism Board are: Pragna Patel-Mueller of El Colibri Hotel & Spa, Ken Cooper of Bluebird Motel, Victoria Moreno of Victoria’s Last Resort, Lesliann Godfrey of Don Bricker Properties and Bram Winter of Moonstone Properties. There is one vacancy, left when Sean Wilkinson resigned. Last month, the board selected Deborah Scarborough of Black Cat Bistro; county supervisors will have to approve her selection.

Directors of the San Simeon Tourism Alliance are Michael R. Hanchett of Cavalier Oceanfront Resorts, Ken Patel of Quality Inn and Paul Panchal of the Sea Breeze Inn and Silver Surf Motel. Other members are Manish Gupta of Courtesy Inn/Oceanside Apartments, Ken Patel of Quality Inn and Miguel Sandoval of San Simeon Lodge. Dee Dee Ricci of the San Simeon Community Services District is the recording secretary.

—Kathe Tanner

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