For years, local cities and some unincorporated areas of the county have had success with Tourism Business Improvement Districts, which have served the promotional needs of individual communities.
Now, with the economy strengthening and tourism improving, Visit San Luis Obispo County, a nonprofit organization promoting San Luis Obispo County, says it’s continuing to seek support from lodging owners for a countywide Tourism Marketing District that would increase awareness of the county as an overnight vacation destination and boost room demand.
“Guests are coming back, TOT (transient-occupancy tax) is continuing to increase, but we lag behind on the average length of stay,” said Stacie Jacob, chief executive officer of Visit San Luis Obispo County. “People often have a hard time understanding how Hearst Castle, wine country and the beach can be part of one trip. We have to have a stronger marketing push to be able to connect those dots.”
The proposed district, developed by Visit San Luis Obispo County and still in the petition phase, is designed to fund marketing, advertising, promotion and sales for the benefit of those lodging businesses that agree to an assessment.
The annual assessment is 1 percent of gross short- term room rental revenue — stays of 30 or fewer consecutive days — and would be implemented for a fiveyear period, beginning Jan. 1, 2015, through Dec. 31, 2019. Visit San Luis Obispo County would be responsible for managing the funds and implementing programs and would provide an annual report to the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors.
To move forward, the district petition needs to be signed by a majority of the lodging businesses that agree to be assessed. Then, the proposal needs consent from individual cities. After a public hearing period, and if there’s no protest from lodging owners, the county Board of Supervisors would approve its formation.
The countywide effort would be in addition to the improvement districts used to help promote tourism in the individual cities and unincorporated areas of the county. The TBIDs, in which hoteliers agree to a monthly assessment on hotel room receipts, range from 1 percent to 3 percent.
Since it proposed the district a year ago, Visit San Luis Obispo County has been talking to various communities through its task force, explaining components of the plan and the importance of “leveraging our core assets,” which include “coastal, cultural and culinary aspects” of our county, Jacob said.
Among the key objectives is to better align and share the goals of diverse communities in the county, and to do a more aggressive job of promotion and expanding the county’s brand outside of its boundaries.
So far, the cities of Pismo Beach and Paso Robles have voted to approve the district. Visit San Luis Obispo County is continuing its outreach effort in other cities, such as Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo, where a City Council meeting is set for Nov. 10 to discuss the district. It also has received endorsements from the Economic Vitality Corp. of San Luis Obispo County, Cal Poly and Visit California, the state’s tourism marketing organization.
“It helps our region of the Central Coast to be competitive with our adjoining markets of Santa Barbara and Monterey counties that are outspending us approximately 4 to 1 on the dollar,” said Meg Williamson, Paso Robles assistant city manager.
“And by working together, we’re leveraging our dollars to reach a broader audience, reduce cost by eliminating some redundancy of effort and just generally growing the pie for all in the district,” she said. “So, it would follow that the success of a countywide effort to attract more visitors to our region is an opportunity to enhance our own local room stays in Paso Robles and expand our own lodging market potential.”
Effie McDermott, owner of Addie Vacation Beach Townhomes in Pismo Beach, said the district “gives a voice to SLO County as a unit.”
“We have our city that advertises and speaks for us, and the county also has to have a voice. We need both. Once upon a time, tourists came here from the Valley and as a stopover from Los Angeles and San Francisco. Then, we began to develop clientele statewide and nationwide. Now, it’s worldwide.”
While the district is not yet in place, Jacob is confident communities will see its adoption as an easy decision. The district, she said, will not only focus on expanding outreach to markets outside the area, such as Phoenix, which has a connecting flight to San Luis Obispo, but to international travelers as well.
“We are not even on the map in some people’s minds,” she said. “They don’t understand how diversified we are.”