The dust has hardly settled on a recent major event here in San Luis Obispo County, Sunset magazine’s Savor the Central Coast, but already I see some things very clearly. Let me tell you what I see but first, a bit of background:
I oversee the Visitors and Conference Bureau for San Luis Obispo County. We are the official tourism marketing organization for the county, and since tourism is the county’s No. 1 industry, this is a good business to be in. Tourism dollars not only support the lodging properties, restaurants, retail outlets and attractions but the taxes associated with them provide for the infrastructure that makes this county a wonderful place for all of us to live. Tourism is a very good thing.
Back to Savor: About 15 months ago, the good folks at Sunset decided they wanted a location to have another event that was compatible with their annual Sunset Celebration at their headquarters in Menlo Park. “Celebration” is extremely popular. It attracts more than 25,000 people and they love it.
But what Sunset wanted for a companion event was something a bit more upscale and adult, focusing on food and wine and located further south in California so that it was more accessible to the southern part of the state. To make a very long story short, we found out about it, brought Sunset to our county, and they fell in love. The result: a perfect marriage between Sunset and San Luis Obispo County.
About 7,000 people attended Savor over the four days of the event — a tremendous marketing success.
But here’s what I find as important, if not more important: It could not have happened without the enthusiastic collaborative efforts of every city in the county, and the county as a whole.
Here’s the deal. Our county has always been a place where each city has pretty much done its own thing. And sometimes they’ve been at odds with each other. So the concept of viewing the competition as being outside of our county hasn’t really been fully embraced.
But the fact is, our competition for tourists is on the outside. And we, in San Luis Obispo County, have a heck of a lot more to offer than any of our competing counties. We are rich in natural diversity, which is what tourists are looking for these days. And we really represent that old romantic California that no one thinks exists anymore. But it does. It’s what you get when you combine all of our communities together in concert. We just need to package it all and get that message out.
Moving forward, I would like to see the recent experience with Savor lead to a concerted effort to band behind a countywide branding and marketing initiative. The Visitors and Conference Bureau is already working on it.
If we can agree that countywide marketing is good and that we need to support it, then together, who knows what other Savors we can create.
Let’s face it. If you’ve got a great product, then you need to promote it. We’ve got the product — our challenge now is to get everyone on board.
I believe we can find a way to create a sustainable funding model for a countywide marketing program. That program would naturally reside with the Visitors and Conference Bureau.
I’d like to hear your thoughts. The timing is right to bring San Luis Obispo County, all of us together, into the spotlight as the world-class destination that it is.
John Summer is executive director of the San Luis Obispo County Visitors and Conference Bureau.