Atascadero trying new approach to draw tourists

Downtown Atascadero
Downtown Atascadero dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

The city of Atascadero, currently marketed to tourists as “The Heart of the Central Coast,” is pairing with its hoteliers and creating a staff position to promote the city in new ways.

The city’s promotions, which have struggled at times, will now take on a two-pronged approach in which the city will help promote the local community happenings and provide public relations while its hoteliers will work to book out-of-town guests, according to the City Council’s latest strategic planning efforts.

The idea was recently reinforced at a joint meeting between the City Council and the city’s tourism business improvement district (TBID). That district was established in 2013 and allows Atascadero’s lodging businesses to charge a 2 percent levy on hotel bills and direct that money toward marketing.

“Everyone agreed that the city will focus on local events and helping businesses in town thrive, while the TBID will help attract visitors to town,” said Marcia Torgerson, Atascadero’s deputy city manager and elected city clerk.

The city will hire a second deputy city manager to be Atascadero’s first full-time in-house coordinator for local events and outreach. The salary range for the position is $6,932 to $8,425 per month plus benefits, according to the city.

The role is a first for the city, which has previous delegated such duties to contractors or to other city employees who primarily handled other tasks, such as a former city management analyst and later, Torgerson, who has taken on the efforts temporarily for the last year.

Since fiscal year 2012, the city has paid about $250,000 from its general fund to Mental Marketing and TJA Advertising to attract visitors to town. Templeton-based Mental Marketing has positioned the city in various destination marketing campaigns, spending the money on advertising, public relations work and branded content such as campaigns and blog posts.

Specifically, the firm created the tourism website www.visitatascadero.com and placed advertising about Atascadero getaways in themed campaigns such as “Winter Wonderland,” “Family Fun” and “Wine Month” that targeted visitors from the Central Valley, Northern California and Southern California via Facebook, Google and various travel guides, among others.

The firm also put together promotions, such as Atascadero hotel-stay contests, on social media.

During the firm’s contract period with Atascadero, the city’s transient occupancy tax grew 10 percent from fiscal year 2012-13 and an additional 11 percent in fiscal year 2013-14, marketing director Maryann Stansfield told The Tribune.

The city’s Visit Atascadero Facebook fans grew from 953 in 2013 to 3,110 people in 2014, and the number of annual unique visitors to the Visit Atascadero website doubled from 2012 to 2014, she said.

Mental Marketing’s extended contract with the city is up in June, and firm officials say they are winding down the city’s campaigns now.

Atascadero will also have a city marketing workshop in April to help focus on its next branding steps and whether “The Heart of the Central Coast” slogan should remain.