Supervisors approve countywide Tourism Marketing District

Beginning July 1, San Luis Obispo County will have a new marketing tool to try to bring more tourists and their dollars to the area.

Faced with a room nearly full of supporters, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Wednesday to approve the formation of a county Tourism Marketing District that will collect an estimated $2.8 million a year from lodging businesses to promote the region.

Wearing white shirts as a show of unity, supporters of the district outnumbered opponents by a margin of 2 to 1 at Wednesday’s hearing. Of the more than 1,000 lodging businesses in the county, only 17.65 percent had protested the formation of the district in writing.

“We want to increase demand and awareness of the county,” said Stacie Jacob, a consultant to Visit San Luis Obispo County. “We also want to reduce marketing duplication and enhance outreach.”

The district will go into effect July 1 and will levy a 1 percent assessment on all overnight rental fees in the county. The money will go to Visit San Luis Obispo County, which will spend it on advertising and other marketing aimed at bringing more tourists to the county and persuading them to stay longer than just one or two days.

“We need a more cohesive marketing effort and more resources, and the TMD concept is the exact way to do it,” said Brian Talley, a vintner in favor of the district.

Not everyone supported the district. A number of lodging business owners urged the supervisors to exempt residential vacation rentals, bed-and-breakfast inns and recreational vehicle parks.

Owners of those businesses said they do their own marketing and have higher occupancy rates than hotels and motels. They said larger hotels rather than small lodging businesses should finance the district.

John Carsel, president of the Cayucos Citizens Advisory Council, said his organization opposed the district because the assessment was an unfair burden for vacation rentals, which account for only about 10 percent of the rooms rented in the county.

Los Osos resident Julie Tacker told supervisors, “I do not understand how you can support a new tax. This is big business imposing on small business.”

Supervisors Bruce Gibson and Frank Mecham said they were willing to exempt vacation rentals and RV parks but found no support from the other supervisors, who said the district will benefit all lodging businesses.

“I think we are better together, and most of the benefits that come from this will benefit everybody,” said Supervisor Adam Hill.

Gibson and Mecham were persuaded to vote in favor of the district when language was added to the business plan that called for the district to specifically market vacation rentals, while also ensuring that unlicensed vacation rentals are identified and licensed so they pay the assessment.