Organizers of the four-day food, wine and lifestyle event, Sunset Savor the Central Coast, tried a few new strategies in September — adding a concert at Vina Robles Amphitheatre, expanding some adventure tours to Thursday, even hosting a 5K and 10K run.
For the most part, those changes extended the event’s reach.
When combined with top favorites such as the kickoff evening reception at Hearst Castle and the Main Event food and wine tasting and seminars at Santa Margarita Ranch, Savor attracted 7,287 unique visitors, 10,588 people overall including sponsor and vendor representatives, and about 140 vendors.
Overall, Savor generated an economic impact of $4.54 million in San Luis Obispo County — up 27 percent from the year before, according to Productive Impact, a San Luis Obispo firm that prepared the analysis. That includes an estimated $1.21 million spent by those attending on such items as lodging, food and gas and $3.04 million to prepare and operate the event.
“Savor was a huge success in 2013,” said Stacie Jacob, executive director of Visit San Luis Obispo County, a tourism marketing agency. The event, which is very experiential, she said, “offers something unique to the typical food and wine events that we see in our area.”
Visit San Luis Obispo County launched the four-day culinary and lifestyle celebration four years ago in partnership with Sunset magazine to showcase the county and spur tourism — the county’s top economic driver.
Sunset magazine specializes in home design and garden, food and entertaining, and regional travel in 13 Western states. Its editors help organize and promote the various activities.
Despite the increase in economic impact, organizers face some challenges for next year’s Savor, set for Sept. 25-28: to attract more visitors from outside the county, especially Southern California; to extend visitors’ stay; and to increase ticket sales to the Main Event, the backbone of the event, which saw a 13 percent decline this year.
Organizers’ goal has long been to attract at least 60 percent outside visitors, but this past year, as in 2012, the split was about 65 percent local and 35 percent non-local.
Average dollars spent by out-of-town attendees was $372.40 per person (excluding ticket sales), down about 23.4 percent from a year ago, yet still in the range of the four-year average, according to the economic report. The average length of stay was 2.45 days, up 5.6 percent.
To help increase those numbers, Savor organizers will continue their marketing push in Southern California, Jacob said.
“We have built tremendous brand equity in Savor the last four years and until this year we hadn’t really focused marketing in these other markets,’’ she added, noting that they spent about $100,000 more this past year focusing on Southern California and the Bay Area.
Organizers also will continue to focus on their most successful events — adventure tours on Thursday and Friday, the kickoff reception at Hearst Castle on Thursday evening, the concert at Vina Robles Amphitheatre and the Main Event, held Saturday and Sunday.
This year the Main Event showcased 69 Central Coast wineries, 27 restaurants, 27 artisanal food producers, five breweries and five celebrity chefs. Yet the number of tickets sold fell 13 percent, to 5,961. Jacob believes that’s because there were more events to choose from this year — and visitors opted for those instead.
“We’ve tried lots of things, and we’ve found the backbone is the Main Event. We don’t want to see it decrease,’’ she said.
They’re considering expanding its features by adding wines from other regions, such as international and the Northwest, and by including restaurants from outside the area, Jacob said.
What event might not return? The 5K and 10K runs. The local market is saturated with such runs, she said, plus the families it drew ultimately didn’t translate into other ticket sales.
As in past years, the 2013 event fell short of breaking even — this year by $136,080 or 10 percent of the overall operating budget, Jacob said. That’s primarily due to the additional marketing investment to attract more non-local residents, she said, noting that Visit SLO County is making up the difference.
Here’s a look at other findings from the economic impact report: