As San Luis Obispo County’s $1 billion tourism industry remains one of the main drivers of the local economy, organizers of Sunset Savor the Central Coast say the second annual four-day food-and-wine event is the most recent — and high-profile — attempt to increase awareness of the region.
The event, which organizers say generated $1.7 million in tourist spending to the local economy in 2010, kicks off Thursday.
“Visitors may choose to come to Savor, but the reality is they are probably spending dollars outside of Savor, too,” county Visitors & Conference Bureau executive
director Stacie Jacob said. Sunset magazine and the bureau are partners in presenting Savor.
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Savor is also touted as one of the county’s new anchor events in tourism. While each local community features events annually, organizers said Savor brings a new flair by showcasing all that the Central Coast has to offer.
About 9,000 food-and-wine enthusiasts are expected to attend this year’s Savor, compared with 7,200 in 2010.
Last year, the inaugural Savor event lost an estimated $291,000 for the visitors bureau. Organizers blamed that on fewer ticket sales than expected outside the county.
As of Tuesday, 8,400 tickets have been sold, showing 17 percent growth. Organizers said it’s too soon to know how many ticket holders are from outside the area. They’re hoping for 60 percent.
The important thing to note, organizers said, is that ticket sales to this year’s event are up.
“That means people are coming back. I think this year’s event is going to be more economically impactful,” said Steve Burns, event producer in charge of marketing for Savor.
Local restaurants are among those positioned to benefit, as visitors from outside the county will be looking for dining options when not attending Savor events.
Some restaurant owners said Savor’s exposure in 2010 generated increased sales.
“We even closed the restaurant one day to be there (last year) and we made up for those sales from the interest it generated,” said executive chef Kirk Sowell who with his wife owns Frankie and Lola’s Front Street Café in Morro Bay.
Sowell said he saw a 20 percent increase in sales the first week after Savor 2010 ended, followed by a 60 percent increase in 2011 compared to pre-Savor 2010.
This year, the family’s other restaurant, Miss LoLa’s Southside Grill, will serve lunch in one of Savor’s sold-out adventure tours.
Organizers with the Travel Paso Robles Alliance said its 19 hoteliers are getting more reservations.
“This year, much more than last year, we are seeing more rooms filled, especially for Saturday,” alliance marketing manager Maryann Stansfield said. “There are increased bookings, increased buzz and more ticket sales at the gate.”
Dolphin Bay Resort & Spa in Shell Beach has a block of rooms booked for Sunset magazine writers and VIPs “that brought more business,” said Chris Ohara, director of sales and marketing. She said she believed the 63-suite hotel would also sell out Saturday.
The Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo is expected to sell out too, according to the reservations desk. The inn is one of many hotels that took part in a weekend deal that gives two free tickets to Savor’s Main Event on Saturday and Sunday for booking a room.
Like other communities, the city of Atascadero is hosting a booth at the Main Event at Santa Margarita Ranch. Its marketing efforts include inviting Saturday visitors to local eateries for specialized entrées. San Luis Obispo, Pismo Beach and Paso Robles, among others, are also showcasing their cities during Savor events.
While Burns said it’s too soon to tell how many noncounty residents will attend, many visitors are from the San Joaquin Valley.
Thomas See, an executive at NBC Universal in Los Angeles, has planned his $5,000-plus birthday celebration around Savor.
“When we found out that Savor the Central Coast was occurring during my 40th birthday, it instantly swayed where we were looking (to celebrate), and (we) decided on the Central Coast,” he said.
Thirteen friends and family members from outside the state will join See and his wife at various Savor events. They have rented a house and booked several hotel rooms.
“The overall event provides us an opportunity to enjoy the best of the Central Coast at our fingertips in a very seamless way,” See said.
Food, wine among offerings showcasing county’s bounty
Sunset Savor the Central Coast, a four-day, food-and-wine event now in its second year, runs Thursday through Sunday with expanded offerings to appeal to more local residents and visitors.
Organizers from Sunset magazine and the San Luis Obispo County Visitors & Conference Bureau expect 9,000 will attend the event — 60 percent from outside the county.
Among the activities: local tours Friday that celebrate the county’s bounty and sustainable environment, food and wine seminars, winemaker dinners and the Main Event at Santa Margarita Ranch on Saturday and Sunday that will feature food and wine tastings, demonstrations, a kitchen garden and more. Local winemakers, chefs and Sunset editors will be on hand throughout the four days.
While some winemaker dinners and celebrity chef Cat Cora’s seminars were sold out a month ago, organizers note that tickets for the all-day Main Event are plentiful.
A one-day $85 Main Event pass ($150 for two days, discount for local residents if tickets are bought in advance at Farm Supply) offers garden, food and wine demonstrations; tastings from 30 local chefs and more than 200 local wineries (plus a few dozen other Western wineries); a backyard farm; and interactive tourism exhibits and general store in a 20,000-square-foot pavilion. In addition, Infiniti — one of the event’s sponsors — will offer test-drives at the ranch’s air strip.
Last year’s event drew 7,200 people.
For more information and to buy tickets to the various events, go to www.savorcentralcoast.com or call 800-634-1414.
— Tribune staff report