Tourists are packed up and headed to the Central Coast

Morro Rock as seen from the dunes above the beach in Morro Bay. Photo by Joe  Johnston 06-17-09
Morro Rock as seen from the dunes above the beach in Morro Bay. Photo by Joe Johnston 06-17-09 The Tribune

Hoteliers, law enforcement officers and state parks employees are gearing up for what’s expected to be a busy Memorial Day weekend, despite the toll the economy has taken on travelers’ wallets.

The Auto Club of Southern California is forecasting a 7.8 percent increase over last year in the number of Southern California residents who will travel over the holiday weekend, said spokesman Jeffrey Spring.

And their top five destinations include the Central Coast — fifth on the list after San Diego, Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon and San Francisco, he said.

“We’re heading in the right direction,” he said. “But you have to remember it’s an increase from a year that was fairly dismal for the travel industry.”

A weekend packed with local events could draw last-minute tourists, said John Summer, executive director of the county Visitors & Conference Bureau. This weekend features the Strawberry Festival in Arroyo Grande, the Avila Beach Blues Festival, Art in the Park in Morro Bay, and the Festival of the Arts event in Paso Robles.

“I think we’re seeing a pickup in traveling interest here in San Luis Obispo County,” he said.

Law enforcement agencies are getting ready to look out for drunken drivers as part of the Avoid the 14 campaign, a program composed of 14 law enforcement agencies in the county.

A DUI checkpoint will be set up in Morro Bay on Friday night, and more officers will patrol Pismo Beach and Grover Beach on Saturday and Sunday nights looking for drivers under the influence, Arroyo Grande police Cmdr. Chuck Gerhart said.

The CHP is deploying all available officers Memorial Day weekend onto freeways and county roads, Gerhart said in describing regional efforts in the Avoid the 14 program.

Deaths and injuries involving alcohol over Memorial Day weekend in California have dropped 26 percent to 385 in 2009 from 526 in 2007, Gerhart said.

Hotel room outlook

Mike Casola of the Boutique Hotel Collection said the 388 rooms at several of its hotels in the county are nearly sold out, including Apple Farm in San Luis Obispo, Sycamore Mineral Springs in Avila Beach, and SeaVenture and the Cliffs Resort in Pismo Beach.

“It looks like we’re going to have a fabulous Memorial Day weekend,” Casola said.

While the occupancy rates don’t appear much different from last year, the hotel rooms sold out earlier this year, he said.

The Courtyard Marriott in Paso Robles is nearly sold out, with a few rooms available Friday and Saturday, director of sales Shady Awad said.

The 400 spots at Pismo Coast Village RV Resort are also full, general manager Jay Jamison said.

While the number of reservations hasn’t changed much over last year — tourists still reserve their spot months ahead of holiday weekends — Jamison said he has noticed a difference.

“People are still coming, they’re just not spending as much” at the resort’s store and on its recreational offerings, he said.

As of Wednesday afternoon, there were 10,158 confirmed reservations at state parks throughout California, said Roy Stearns, deputy director of communications for State Parks.

Last year the parks had 10,409 reservations. Stearns said he expected more reservations to be made before the weekend.

Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCountyBeat on Twitter.