Letters to the Editor

Viewpoint: Lessons to be learned about local branding

A drop in San Luis Obispo city’s transient occupancy tax revenue by more than 6 percent year-to-date (BizBuzz, July 10) certainly should be a cause for concern.

The creators of the Tourism Business Improvement District’s new website slogan — “Wine. Coast. Country.” — should take note and connect the dots between this fact and the manner in which San Luis Obispo County and its principal communities have been consumer-branding themselves these past few years.

Any marketing professor or expert in the field of consumer products will stress the importance of branding as paramount to success. Branding strives to create a unique identity for one’s product and a compelling reason for the consumer to “use” it. Central to any such marketing or selling of one’s brand is then absolute “consistency of message” and “consistency of image.”

One of my first hospitality industry jobs was destination marketing for the Greater Los Angeles area. The appellation “greater” was always intended to include a wide range of cities and communities ranging in part from Beverly Hills to the San Fernando Valley to Orange County and Anaheim.

Each of these “mini-regions” has its own personality and is fiercely competitive for its fair share of the all-important tourist dollar. However, each city understood the draw of the term “Los Angeles.”

There are no beaches in “Los Angeles,” no amusement parks or movie studios, but the theory has always been “if a destination tourist arrives in the greater Los Angeles area, he will find his way and spend his money where he desires, based on his particular interests.”

The Los Angeles branding campaign has consistently delivered this same message for decades.

Much has changed through the years, various cities and communities still aggressively promote themselves, but tourists from around the world still call anywhere from the Ventura county line to the San Diego county line, “Los Angeles.”

I know it’s heresy around here to compliment population-congested, traffic-ridden Los Angeles on anything tourist-related, but you have to hand it to them, they know branding!

What’s the lesson to be learned for San Luis Obispo County tourism? The Tribune has been reporting on all the different bids promoting the various cities, announcing new tag lines, websites and marketing plans.

To what purpose? At the end of the day, hotel occupancies are down significantly in several key cities resulting in a TOT shortfall.

Is the recession still the prime culprit? Economic reports say that service industries, particularly tourism, are displaying job growth. People are apparently not shopping at previous levels, but they are still traveling. Many hotels in our area are performing quite well in year-over-year comparisons.

Could it be that the variety of consumer tourist messages (the slogans and brands) put forth by our various “Greater San Luis Obispo” cities and communities, appropriate as each may be to its particular locale, are still too confusing and even at times contradictory? 

Do we simply lack that all-important “consistency” factor in presenting our region as a world-class tourist destination?

The upcoming “Savor the Central Coast” event displays one answer.

Several communities throughout the county will come together this fall in support of the Sunset magazine event. Local tourism marketing groups should use this event as a model, not merely for such annual events, but for marketing San Luis Obispo County as a whole. Combine resources year-round for the success of all our cities and communities.

A tourist visiting here for the Lavender Farm in Atascadero may decide to spend some time at the beach in Pismo too.

Or a visitor to the historic village of Arroyo Grande may want to visit the charming downtown of San Luis Obispo. Think of it as “Greater Los Angeles,” only “SLOer.” Myraline Morris Whitaker has been in the hospitality industry for 25-plus years. She is a past president of the San Luis Obispo County Visitors and Conference Bureau board of directors.