The Cambrian

North Coast hopes for tourism boost from Lady Gaga video

The suspense is over: Lady Gaga’s “G.U.Y.” video is online. But at least one unanswered question remains: Will the video, which features extensive footage filmed at Hearst Castle, really draw more people (especially those in the so-called millennial generation) to the North Coast and the eccentric and lavish former San Simeon estate of media mogul William Randolph Hearst?

Most people questioned by The Cambrian following the video’s March 22 online release said probably yes, although they wouldn’t venture a guess about how big a visitation increase Lady Gaga’s production might trigger.

From the opening scene shot on a Hearst Ranch hillside between the Castle and Reservoir Hill to the closing pan across the hilltop compound to the sea, the Castle is prominently featured throughout a majority of the video. Among the most used locations were the outdoor Neptune Pool and indoor Roman Pool, two of the most popular and iconic sites at the Castle.

Remar Sutton of the Hearst Castle Preservation Foundation said that, less than 48 hours after the video’s release, “over 9 million people have watched the video on YouTube alone,” and it “is certainly getting the Castle before a new audience — and also drawing a large number of adults.”

Lady Gaga donated $250,000 to the Preservation Fund as part of the package which allowed her to do the extremely rare commercial production on the Castle’s hilltop and adjacent ranch land. She also paid a standard $22,500 special event fee plus expenses, and donated $25,000 toward a study of two wells on State Park property to be done by the Cambria Community Services District. The district provides water to the San Simeon Campground, a State Park facility.

Sutton said online reviews of Gaga’s video were running “about 93 percent ‘thumbs up,’ if you look at the number of ‘likes’ and at the actual reviews that have happened worldwide.” Also, “there are already over 2 million separate Google items on ‘Lady Gaga GUY video.’”

At the Castle, the video certainly has generated comment from visitors, “especially from those in a certain generation, say from ages 13 to 20,” said Ty Smith, chief of museum interpretation, who supervises all the guides. Those millennials “are excited that they are at a place where she was” or has been, he said, a place featured on international media. “They say, ‘Oh, that’s so cool!’”

He said there’s also “a general enthusiasm from people who are in the know,” and that he expects that sense of excitement could build for a while. After all, “the video just came out over the weekend.”

The Gaga buzz began as soon as word got out that she was going to film at Hearst Castle, according to some docents at the Castle visitor center and representatives of the Cambria Chamber of Commerce.

They estimated the Chamber probably had 60 or so related comments by March 24, a number that’s all the more impressive because it accumulated during February and March, the normally slower tourist season.

Apparently, one young family of five from Texas indicated to chamber officials that, at the last minute, they knew they had to go to the Castle because a friend had just tweeted the daughter that “Lady Gaga’s there!”

As to whether all the buzz will help local businesses, the jury’s still out. “It probably will be beneficial to the Castle,” said Steve Kniffen of the Cambria Chamber of Commerce board, Cambria’s Parks, Recreation and Open Space Commission and longtime manager of the Sea Chest Oyster Bar. “But whether people will rent a motel room on Moonstone Beach and eat in my restaurant because of the video I have a problem making that link.”

One place that’s almost certain to get at least some business-boosting ripple effect from Lady Gaga is the Cambria Ale House, where the pop diva and her retinue stopped Feb. 13 for a couple of hours of post-production recreation, dancing, beer, sake and relaxation.

Bartender Chris Mayes said that since then, “We’ve definitely had a lot of people coming in here and asking if this is where she was. It probably happens at least once or twice a day.” He said many of those people have been out-of-towners, but “more of them are locals.”

Related stories from San Luis Obispo Tribune