The Cambrian

Hearst Castle spring attendance up from last year — and that’s good news for business owners

Hearst Castle attendance in March through May this year was up by 8 percent when compared with the same months last year — jumping to 154,954 from 141,936 — according to Dan Falat, superintendent of the state parks’ district that includes the Castle.

Falat also reported that January through May attendance had increased by 6 percent, to 212,553 from nearly 200,000 (199,942). Comparing Hearst Castle attendance statistics from one year to another can be problematic because so many factors can affect the trends.

Weather is a big one, of course, but so are economic trends, road conditions and highway construction-and-repair projects, competing events in other areas, recent media coverage and other factors that affect the plans and whims of travelers.

For instance, January-through-May 2018 visitation suffered in part because the Highway 1 route to Big Sur was closed by ongoing road rebuilding after catastrophic landslides, while the same time period in 2019 had weirdly extended periods of rain.

Effect on surrounding businesses

As always, how busy Hearst Castle is has a direct effect on the bottom lines of many area businesses and lodgings.

Those Castle visitors — who also frequently take the All-American Road/National Scenic Byway route on Highway 1 from Cambria to Carmel — are apt to dine, shop and even stay overnight or longer in Cambria or San Simeon.

That’s one reason why, according to the County Business Improvement District or CBID, the North Coast area continually contributes to county coffers the county’s highest level of transient-occupancy taxes. Those are the extra fees lodgings charge their guests and pay to the county.

A separate 2% fee goes directly to countywide and community-specific funds (in unincorporated areas, such as the Cambria Tourism Board) to be used exclusively to promote more overnight stays, known colloquially as “heads in beds” tourism.

‘Hopefully we’ll have a good summer’

Jill Jackson, the tourism board’s administrator, said recent county reports show that Cambria generated 46% of the county’s TOT from unincorporated areas so far in 2019, and San Simeon contributed 21%. However, the tourism board’s June 11 minutes show a recent CBID analysis that, while 84% of Californians vacation in the state, only 4% of them chose the Central Coast as their destination.

Jim Bahringer, tourism board chairman, said he didn’t have any definite statistics on North Coast visitation, but that he’d heard anecdotally from various entrepreneurs that there’d been a spike in business in April 2019, compared with last year.

Mary Ann Carson, executive director of the Cambria Chamber of Commerce, said she’d heard from chamber members and others that business levels in town reflected the castle attendance, and that the rainy weather had a definite effect on balance sheets.

“I heard that January was good, there was a lull in February because of the rain,” Carson said, “that spring break started late but things got going in April and then May was good.”

“Hopefully, we’ll have a good summer,” she added.

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