More visitors savored ’12 event

Sunset Savor the Central Coast, a four-day upscale food-and-wine event held in San Luis Obispo County in late September, drew nearly 10,000 people, up 11 percent from the previous year, and generated an economic impact of $3.58 million, a 22 percent increase, organizers said.

The event has grown annually since its inception in 2010.

“The positive three-year trend establishes Savor as a premiere food-and-wine event on the West Coast,” said Noreen Martin, president of the San Luis Obispo Visitors and Conference Bureau and chief executive officer of Martin Resorts, in a prepared statement.

That, in turn, has helped spur the county’s tourism growth in a difficult economy, officials said.

The event was created to showcase the county as a culinary and lifestyle destination and extend the reach of Sunset magazine, which specializes in home design and garden, food and entertaining, and regional travel in 13 Western states.

The VCB and Sunset, which co-sponsor Savor, have set the date for next year’s event — Sept. 26-29.

They’re also brainstorming ways to improve it — possibly by offering more adventure tours, for example — but will continue to offer wine dinners and VIP events as wellas wine and food tasting and seminars at the weekend Main Event at Santa Margarita Ranch.

Despite Savor’s growth, the event has yet to break even. It fell short by $79,000 or 8 percent of a

$1 million budget (generated by sponsorships, exhibitors and ticket sales), according to Savor director Faith Wells.

That compares to $291,000 the first year and $47,000 the second year. But, Wells said, the VCB board, which made up the loss, considers that a small investment for the promotional value and branding Savor offers SLO County as a culinary, wine and lifestyle destination.

Clint Pearce, treasurer of the VCB and president of Madonna Enterprises, said that as Savor matures and evolves, some events change — and as organizers learn more about putting on various aspects of Savor, they learn which ones are profitable.

They’ve also begun to assume more control over the event and do more in-house, Pearce said, noting, for example, that the VCB hired Wells this year. Given all this, he expects Savor’s financial performance to improve, allowing it to break even in the next year or two. He praised the growth in ticket sales and good expense controls.

Organizers had hoped to attract 60 percent of this year’s visitors from outside the county, but based on information provided by a new ticketing system, out-of-county visitors accounted for just 40 percent of the total. Still, those 40 percent spent on average $486.32, up 43 percent over last year, Wells said.

Here’s a closer look at the event’s economic impact this year, according to an analysis by Ken Riener and Patrick Mayeda of Productive Impact LLC of San Luis Obispo: