Atascadero continues efforts to bring visitors to the city

tstrickland@thetribunenews.comSeptember 14, 2013 

Atascadero’s historic City Hall reopened to the public Aug. 20 after repairs from the San Simeon Earthquake were completed.

DAVID MIDDLECAMP — dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com Buy Photo

The city of Atascadero is kicking off the second phase of a plan designed to draw visitors to the city.

The first phase has already produced a new tourism website and social media outreach. The efforts are part of a 20-month, $240,000 contract with TJA Advertising and Mental Marketing the city agreed to in November.

The overall campaign aims to increase overnight stays in the city; build collaboration among retailers, eateries, wineries and event organizers to increase transient occupancy tax returns to the city; and generate awareness of the city’s key assets.

The city sought a new plan after two contract employees that aided in event promotions were let go last year when the state dissolved the city redevelopment agency that paid them. The City Council decided that it needed a more comprehensive approach to tourism and sought outside help.

“We are a business, per se, and we rely on customers to support our business. And just like any other business, you have to advertise your products to get people to come,” Councilman Bob Kelley said. “I don’t think we’ve ever done it in the past, to be honest.”

The new campaign, which began late last year, branded the city as the “Heart of the Central Coast,” a place tourists can stay and still be close other local attractions. Also touted are a handful of Atascadero-centric attractions, including the Charles Paddock Zoo, Veterans Memorial and the historic city hall.

The “heart” part of the campaign is also intended to play off Atascadero’s small-town feel and heritage.

With the brand in place, the marketing firms created several tools to get the word out. They revamped the city’s existing tourism website, www.visitatascadero.com, launched a tourism page on Facebook, advertised events and started wine month promotions, among other things.

The second phase, introduced last week, focuses on building on those first steps. The firm plans to produce a video series on local attractions and promote them on YouTube and Charter television. They also plan to design a new Atascadero brochure, take more photos of people dining and families having fun in town, run contests and promote the newly re-opened City Administration Building.

Amar Sohi, general manager of Atascadero Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites,  told the council last week that so far, he thought the plan is helping.

“I’m glad to see that Atascadero is putting more effort in its marketing and have seen a little bit of a return,” Sohi said.

The City Council said mostly good things about the plan’s progress, except Mayor Tom O’Malley, owner of a bed-and-breakfast in town, who recused himself from the discussion because of the possible conflict of interest.

Councilwoman Heather Moreno asked if the firm was setting any benchmarks for its success, such as getting a certain number of Facebook “likes” by a given date.

From late April, when the website was revamped, through the end of August, the firms reported receiving 12,496 visitors to www.visitatascadero.com. A social media page set up earlier this year has accumulated 954 Facebook “likes.”

Those numbers are promising, Mental Marketing CEO Mark Elterman said, since in 2012, the website had 11,152 visitors in the year before it was redone.

The website is also designed to serve the city’s new tourism district formed by lodging businesses in April. The website is set up to help lodgings offer specials, packages and promotions to tourists.

More people staying at Atascadero hotels means more money for the city since overnight guests are charged a transient occupancy tax, also known as a bed tax.

While city officials say the marketing campaign is too new to translate into city revenue figures, Atascadero’s bed tax coffers took in $638,113 in fiscal year 2011-12 and $702,895 in fiscal year 2012-13.

Stay connected with Tonya Strickland by following @tstrickland on Twitter or by visiting Facebook.com/SLOTribuneNorthCounty.

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