Winter storms, Hwy. 1 closures scared away Central Coast tourists

Stormy weather and repeated closures to Highway 1 in Big Sur took a toll on Central Coast tourism this winter.

In February, typically the slowest month of the year, hotel occupancy across San Luis Obispo County dropped year over year, according to the latest figures available.

The month was marked by multiple well-publicized atmospheric river events full of subtropical moisture from the waters south of Hawaii. In some cases, the bull’s eye for the storms appeared to be the Central Coast around Big Sur, where storm totals reached as high as 6 inches.

As a result, Highway 1 through Big Sur suffered frequent closures as Caltrans regularly shut the road at Mud Creek and Paul’s Slide as a safety precaution.

SLO County cities like Morro Bay felt the impact. It saw its hotel occupancy fall to 47% compared to 55% in February 2018. Revenue per available room, the hotel industry’s measure of profitability, dropped to $48 compared to $58 for February 2018, according to the Morro Bay Business Improvement District.

Morro Bay itself had 12 days of rain in February vs. one the previous year, a drought year, according to the city tourism group. Of course, tourism is flourishing now that the rains are gone and wildflowers are everywhere.

Morro Bay was not alone in experiencing the tourism doldrums, which hit every other SLO County city.

Cambria’s February occupancy rate was 56% vs. 59% the year before. San Luis Obispo was 66% vs. 69%, Pismo Beach was 60% vs. 67%, and Paso Robles was 62% vs. 65%.

Countywide, the rate fell to 59%, from 64% in February 2018.

Wet weather likely kept travelers at home across California, but not to the same extent.

Statewide hotel occupancy averaged 73.9 percent in February 2019, a 0.1 percent decrease year over year, according to STR, a Tennessee company that tracks hotel market data.

Rain did not hurt everyone, however. San Francisco hotel occupancy was up in February despite all those storms.

John Lindt is the editor of

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