Biz Buzz: Savor lost money for county but deemed ‘an overall success’

Savor the Central Coast, the four-day food and wine event held Sept. 30 to Oct. 3, lost an estimated $291,000 for the county Visitors & Conference Bureau due to fewer ticket sales than expected outside the county, officials said.

The event, hosted by the VCB and Sunset Magazine, cost $1.15 million to produce, according to Steve Burns, co-owner of O’Donnell Lane of Sonoma County, which managed the event. Income from the event totaled $859,000, though that could change as some income is still being tallied.

Organizers had hoped to attract 8,000 guests, with 60 percent — or 4,800 — from outside the county.

“Instead, we got 60-plus percent from inside the county,’’ Burns said.

Savor’s various events attracted 7,368 people and generated a total estimated economic impact of $2.4 million, according to a final report by Productive Impact, an economic research firm in San Luis Obispo. More specifically:

The Main Event, which was held Oct. 2 and Oct. 3 at Santa Margarita Ranch and offered wine and food tastings, seminars, garden tours and other activities, attracted 3,792 visitors — 2,351 county residents and 1,441 visitors.

The Avila Beach concert and fireworks on Oct. 3 attracted 2,200 people — 550 who attended the Main Event and 1,650 visitors who did not attend the Main Event. Of those who just attended the concert, 1,023 were county residents and 627 were noncounty.

An additional 1,926 people attended events who received vendor passes, complimentary tickets, or who were Sunset employees, media and Savor staff.

Overall spending for out-of-town visitors was $402.09 per person, compared to local residents’ expenses of $37.55 per person.

Of the $1.1 million budget to prepare Santa Margarita Ranch, Avila Beach and other Savor venues, 80 percent of that was spent locally.

Although VCB board members aren’t happy about the organization’s Savor deficit, they all felt that Savor and their association with Sunset magazine “was an overall success,’’ especially for a first-year event, said Noreen Martin, VCB president and a hotelier and businesswoman.

Moreover, 91 percent of those who responded to a survey (there was a 40 percent response rate of 1,000 surveyed) said the event met or exceeded their expectations, organizers said.

The VCB will make up its deficit by tightening expenses — not dropping any projects, Martin said, noting that she will personally run the VCB for the time being in the wake of executive director John Summer’s recent resignation. That resignation was not related to Savor, Martin said.

In addition, the VCB is discussing with Sunset officials the possibility of them helping to offset the deficit this year plus contribute a portion of national sponsorship money it receives next year, Martin said.

Sunset magazine has already committed to the event next year, and the VCB board is expected to give its formal approval Wednesday.

Looking ahead, Burns said, local organizers will be more conservative next year — setting the budget at $850,000, which is what Savor received this year from sponsorships, vendor/winery participation booths and ticket sales. It won’t incur some costs again, such as the one-time expenses associated with creating a logo and website.

Both Burns and Martin also said that they’ll strive to attract 8,000 guests again — but this time with 50 percent from outside the county.

To help attract more visitors, Sunset officials have already said they’d advertise the event in all of their magazines that circulate in 13 Western states — not just California. Martin said that those involved in producing the event will team together earlier with a more focused marketing plan.

Given these and other changes in the works, Martin is optimistic and notes that Savor the Central Coast is a good investment in SLO County. It has “proven to revive the local economy by $2.4 million and has proven that all municipalities have collaboratively worked together with their tourism partners throughout SLO County,” she said.