Morro Bay hotels see bump in business as marketing efforts pay off

jlynem@thetribunenews.comNovember 7, 2012 

Tourism is rebounding in Morro Bay.

Transient occupancy tax, also referred to as hotel bed tax, has risen in the city, a reflection of enhanced marketing efforts that have lured vacation-goers searching for a quick getaway on the Central Coast.

More than $2 million in hotel bed tax was collected in fiscal year 2011-12, which ended June 30, a 9 percent increase from the previous fiscal year and the highest in the city’s history, according to local tourism and marketing officials.

Bed tax increased 20 percent in June alone compared to the same month last year. The total bed tax for July was flat compared to the same month last year, while the figures for August and September show a continued upward trend, with increases of more than 11 percent and 17 percent respectively compared to 2011.

“People are taking advantage of the Central Coast,” said Karen Biaggini, who runs the Embarcadero Inn and is a member of the city’s Tourism Business Improvement District board. “Our business is doing great. We’ve come through the recession and seen marked improvement.”

The city’s Tourism Business Improvement District has played a significant role in helping spread the word about what Morro Bay has to offer, said Joan Solu, chairwoman of the city’s TBID board, which recommends projects to the city to promote tourism.

To generate funds solely for marketing its lodging stakeholders, the city’s 35 lodging partners, with roughly 920 rooms, assess themselves 3 percent on their hotel room receipts, the largest percentage of any TBID in San Luis Obispo County. For fiscal year 2011-12, more than $513,000 was collected from the assessment.

The assessment, on top of bed tax levied on rates at hotels, motels and other lodgings, means more funds spent on marketing through traditional channels as well as social media such as Facebook, Solu said. Increased visitor traffic, she added, helps lift Morro Bay’s overall economy.

“In the last three years, since the TBID came in, we’ve decided that we were going to focus on branding Morro Bay,” she said. “We focused it on Discover Morro Bay, a place where you can discover fine and casual dining, great wines with a seaside view, great people, our farm-to-table products and aquaculture. Morro Bay is this hidden little gem that has these super things you can do.”

Morro Bay has partnered with local and regional tourism partners to get its message out. In addition, the TBID has worked with city staff, the former community promotions committee, the Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce and the city’s public relations firm Barnett Cox & Associates to devise ways to draw attention to Morro Bay.

In June, the city launched its new web site and is now tapping into consumer use of smart phones and other devices to promote it as a travel destination.

The city has hosted media tours, and several media outlets, including Sunset magazine and the San Francisco Chronicle, have featured Morro Bay.

“I have not heard from a hotel that has said year over year, we’re down,” Solu said.

The bump in business, she said, has motivated about half of the city’s hotels and motels to renovate or completely remodel, investing millions of dollars to spruce up their properties.

Hemant Patel, owner of the Twin Dolphin Inn, is spending $800,000 to $900,000 to convert it to a Comfort Inn, a more recognizable brand, he said.

“We’re remodeling the entire property; the bathrooms, rooms, hallways,” he said.

Patel added: “I think the TBID has done its part in promoting Morro Bay. The marketing efforts do help. The last few years have been some of the better years.”

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