We all know there's much more to San Luis Obispo County than Hearst Castle, the Madonna Inn and Morro Rock.
But out-of-town visitors, particularly visitors from overseas, may have limited knowledge of all that SLO County has to offer — if they’ve even heard of us at all.
That’s a knowledge gap that a proposed countywide Tourism Business Improvement District, or TBID, would address.
The promotional effort would be funded by a 1 percent assessment added to bills for hotel rooms and other overnight lodgings. On average, that would cost a visitor just $1.24 per night, yet it would generate nearly $3 million annually. That revenue could be spent on advertising, research, event marketing and other areas currently underfunded.
Before that can happen, though, a majority of hoteliers in the various communities must petition for creation of a countywide Tourism Marketing District. Then, the proposal must go to the local city councils and the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors for their blessings.
Two city councils — Pismo Beach and Paso Robles — already have given their support to the marketing district. The San Luis Obispo City Council is scheduled to consider it Monday night; Morro Bay follows on Dec. 9, and Atascadero on Jan. 13. Hearings before the remaining cities and the Board of Supervisors have yet to be scheduled.
As long as a majority of hoteliers support the concept — and so far, support has been widespread — we strongly urge the cities and the Board of Supervisors to move forward with the countywide district.
Tourism is a huge economic driver for all of our communities. It generates the sales and bed taxes that our local agencies depend on to provide services; helps small businesses; creates jobs; and supports the nonprofit museums, festivals and other special events that enhance the quality of life for locals as well as tourists.
Yet SLO County is at a huge disadvantage in marketing itself, especially when compared to neighboring counties. Monterey, for example, has a budget of more than $5 million per year for countywide promotions; Santa Barbara, more than $4 million.
Visit San Luis Obispo County — the nonprofit organization that handles countywide promotions — has a budget of $940,000.
To be clear, that’s not the sum total of money spent for promotions; individual cities have their own TBIDs that collectively bring in around $5 million. That revenue has funded successful campaigns to market individual communities and their special events. Pismo Beach, for example, has done a stellar job of promoting its oceanfront hotels.
What’s missing, though, is a comprehensive program that promotes SLO County as a region with a wide variety of attractions, activities and special events. Focusing on all that the county has to offer — from beaches and other outdoor attractions to concerts, wine tastings and museums — should not only increase the number of visitors, but it should also lengthen the average stay in SLO County, which is now 1.7 nights. By comparison, in Monterey County visitors spend an average of 2.5 nights, and in Santa Barbara County, 2.3.
Bottom line: The individual communities of SLO County have been doing a fine job of promoting their unique characteristics and attractions, but there’s a limit to what they can achieve individually.
A countywide TBID would have the resources to advertise in markets out of reach to small and midsize cities; to conduct research that will help further define what visitors are looking for; to focus on attracting visitors during the off-season; and to help make San Luis Obispo County a destination that will be recognized nationally and internationally.
We strongly urge the Board of Super visors and the remaining city councils to join Pismo Beach and Paso Robles in supporting the creation of a Tourism Marketing District.