Attendance at Hearst Castle has been on a steady climb for the past couple of years, with an 11.3 percent increase in the total number of visits in 2014 compared with the 2012 figures.
What’s driving the upswing? For openers, the state’s disastrous drought brought mostly beautiful weather for traveling to the hilltop and the Central Coast in 2013 and 2014.
“I think visitation is likely up because of falling gas prices and a general feeling that the economy is improving,” Nick Franco, superintendent of the State Park district that includes the Castle, wrote in an email interview Friday, Jan. 16.
“People seem to be wanting to go out and take more small trips,” he said.
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The castle has continued its additional “Building the Dream” tour, and Franco hopes to have “sufficient funding in the coming year to continue that into next summer. Our biggest issue is the ability to continue to hire enough new guides to meet the demand.”
He said the castle is recruiting to ensure there’ll be “a high-quality group of candidates to begin training this spring” to fill out the ranks.
A countywide cliché says, “As Hearst Castle goes, so goes San Luis Obispo County and the Central Coast.”
But are Castle visitors really staying in the area for a while, at least overnight?
One measure of that is total-occupancy tax or TOT, the extra fees lodgings charge their guests and pay to the county.
Records for the Visit San Luis Obispo County agency show that TOT collections for the unincorporated ares of the county were:
- 2011-2012 fiscal year (July 1-June 30): $6,600,912
- 2012-2013: $7,190,873
- 2013-2014: $8,278,369
A separate fee — 2 percent of each bill — goes directly to countywide and community-specific funds (in unincorporated areas) to promote more overnight stays, known colloquially as “heads in beds” tourism.
For instance, a visitor who spends the night in a Cambria lodging would pay an additional 1 percent of the bill to the county’s Business Improvement District fund, and 1 percent to the Cambria Tourism Board’s account.
According to county records as reported by Nikki Schmidt of the Administrative Office, Cambria’s 1 percent of the add-on fee came to $306,709 in 2012, $340,201 in 2013 and $280,314 for the first nine months of 2014, bolstering the community’s long-held perception that the lodgings in the small coastal town contribute a sizeable chunk of the county’s TOT.
Charlie Yates is general manager of Pacifica Hotels in Cambria and a member of the tourism board. He believes local lodging industry statistics “mirror the increases at the Castle,” although he couldn’t reveal specifics.
“It’s been a steady increase … and we’re really positive about 2015,” he said.
He credited a number of factors, including those mentioned by Franco, but also the “Cambria-San Simeon-Hearst Castle allure from all the articles written nationally and internationally over the past three years.”
Yates also said various events contributed to the increases, such as the Amgen Tour of California bicycle race with stunning, internationally televised aerial shots of the Castle and the coast; the event Sunset Savor the Central Coast and Sunset magazine’s repeated articles featuring of the area as a prime vacation spot; the Best Buddies bike ride; and yes, even the Lady Gaga video production at the Castle.
“We really feel that the partnership we’re forging between Cambria, San Simeon, the Castle and the Hearst Castle Theater … are helping to bring us into the tourism limelight,” he said, and helping to re-establish Hearst Castle as a true tourism destination.
Paid visits Complimentary visits Total visits
2012 641,129 27,128 668,257
2013 689,865 28,362 718,227
2014 724,409 29,998 754,407