Half Year Review of Central Coast Tourism

The Smith Travel Research Report (“STR”)  for the first half of 2014 is now available on the Visit California website .

Which Way for Central Coast Tourism

Which Way for Central Coast Tourism?

Once again the STR Report paint a mixed picture for Central Coast Tourism and the local hospitality industry.

Overall for the state of California in the first half of 2014 vs. same period 2013, the all important “RevPAR” (Revenue per Available Room) is up 10.7%. The Central Coast as a whole is doing better than average: up 11.2% over the same period, only bested by the San Diego area (up 11.3%) and the San Francisco Bay area (up 13.7%). As readers of this blog know, the Bay area has been going gangbusters for several year, making this latest surge even more impressive.

However, within the Central Coast, Oxnard/Ventura RevPAR was up 14.1% for the first half, Santa Barbara/Santa Maria up 12.0%, Monterey / Salinas up 10.1%,  with the San Luis Obispo / Paso Robles region bringing up the rear with a 9.5% increase (below the state average.) RevPAR growth closely matched increase in rooms sold: Oxnard/Ventura demand up 8.6%, with SLO demand only increasing 3.9%. (This is also below state average increase of 4.2%.)

Even the actual room rates rates achieved in the SLO/Paso Robles region suffer in  comparison. For the first half of 2014, average RevPAR for the state was $97.56, Santa Barbara / Santa Maria $110.57, Monterey / Salinas $106.41. SLO RevPAR was $82.20 – only barely edging out the Ventura / Oxnard area of $79.55.

It makes one wonder why there is another boom of building new hotels and motels in SLO County: below average demand growth, below average RevPAR, and below average RevPAR growth don’t exactly scream need for more capacity… Why is this area so attractive for builders???? Thoughts?

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Oxnard and Ventura Rock in 2014!

The Visit California website now has the Smith Travel Research(“Star” or “STR reports) report for the first quarter of 2014. The

Sudden Interest in Visiting the Mission in Ventura?

results show an incredible surge for the Ventura / Oxnard area in March and for the first quarter as a whole.

Just some examples: in March RevPAR (The all-important “Revenue per Available Room” – the key metric for the hotel trade) shows a wonderful 10.6% increase over 2013 for the entire state of California. The Oxnard / Ventura area area had a 19.4% increase in the same month – by far the highest regional increase in the state. For the first quarter, Oxnard / Ventura enjoyed a 15.6% increase (almost the largest increase in the state) vs. state average of 11.4% .

The Ventura / Oxnard increase was driven by an incredible increase of occupancy: 14.4% for March and (vs. state average of 4.3% increase) and 11.4% for the first quarter (vs 4.9% increase for overall state).

Sadly, SLO County is the worst performing of the four Central Coast Regions. so far in 2014. Yes, its RevPar is up 9.8% for the first quarter, but Monterey / Salinas is up 12.3%, Santa Barbara/Santa Maria is up 12.9%, and as mentioned, Ventura/Oxnard is up 15.6%.

And the Bay area continues its surge: San Francisco / San Mateo RevPAR for the first quarter is up 17.7%, and its nearby wine destination getaways of Santa Rosa (i.e. Sonoma County) are up 16.5% and Napa are up 14.9% for the same period.

Any thoughts on why Ventura and Oxnard are doing so well?

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RevPAR 2007 – 2013

As pointed out by my earlier blog post this month, in 2013 the Central Coast and its sub regions had a very average year in growth of RevPAR (Revenue Per Available Room), compared to the state of California as a whole.

To look at longer trends, I went through the earlier year-end Smith Travel Research (STR) Reports that were previously published on the VisitCalifornia travel trade website section during 2008 – 2013. (The 2008 results allowed me to provide the baseline 2007 statistics.)

As we know, 2007 was the last “normal” year for travel. 2008 started fine, but with the stock market collapse beginning in September 2008, everything quickly went to h***. 2009 proved to be the worst year, with the variable speed recovery since then.

Looking at RevPAR:
For California as a whole:   2013 vs. 2007: + 12%       2013 vs. 2009: + 40%

Key CA Regions
San Francisco Region:         2013 vs. 2007:  + 40%      2013 vs. 2009: + 64%
Oakland Region:                    2013 vs. 2007:  + 18%      2013 vs. 2009: + 61%
San Jose Region:                    2013 vs. 2007:  + 24%      2013 vs. 2009: + 70%
Los Angeles Region:              2013 vs. 2007:   + 14%     2013 vs. 2009: + 43%

For Central Coast as whole: 2013 vs 2007:   +    8%    2013 vs. 2009: + 31%
San Luis Obispo Region:     2013 vs. 2007:   + 15%     2013 vs. 2009: + 30%
Santa Barbara Region:          2013 vs. 2007:  + 11%     2013 vs. 2009: + 31%
Monterey Region:                  2013 vs. 2007:    +   5%    2013 vs. 2009: + 33%
Ventura Region:                      2013 vs. 2007:   +  3%     2013 vs. 2009: + 27%


The Central Coast RevPAR was not as badly impacted during the downturn as the Key California cities, but then the Key Cities snapped back even higher. (Way to go San Francisco: RevPAR up 40% since 2007, and up 64% since 2009!)

As for the Central Coast Regions, SLO had the best recovery compared to 2007, though even that 15% increase was barely better than the state average of 12%. Compared to 2009, the four Central Coast Regions are all close to the average 31% increase for the region as a whole, ranging from 27 – 33% increases. Even SLO’s increase may be partially attributable to the fact that it is nearest the booming Silicon Valley: note the 60%+ increases in San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose since 2009.

Your thoughts?

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December Surge in Central Coast Tourism… but Still Mediocre Results for 2014

Visit California recently published the Smith Travel Report (STR) for full year 2014 for the State of California.

Good, but needs improvement

As always, interesting results when looking at the results for the Central Coast and  it sub-regions vs. other regions of the State.

Overall, the key measurement of RevPAR (Revenue per Available Room) for the state as a whole increased a very nice 8.6% for the year as a whole, helped by a 10.5% increase in room demand for the month of December.

The Central Coast had an even nicer increase in room demand of 13.6% in December, but lagged the state increase in RevPAR by only increasing 7.5% for the year asa a whole.

The four sub regions of the Central Coast had fairly similar results RevPAR for the year as a whole. Oxnard/Ventura increased 6.3%, Monterey / Salinas increased 7.0%, Santa Barbara / Santa Maria increased 8.0% and San Luis Obispo / Paso Robles increased 8.5%.

Part of the relative weakness of the Central Coast may be increased business travel, which is a relatively small proportion of the vacation-oriented travel destination of the Central Coast. RevPAR in San Jose / Santa Cruz increased by 14.1% for the year, San Francisco / San Mateo increased 12.9%, and in Oakland (nobody’s idea of a vacation destination) RevPAR increased 11.9% for the year.

And as for the “comp set” (competitors) for the wine oriented Central Coast? Napa Valley RevPAR increased 11.4% for the year, and Santa Rosa increased 17.0% – double that of the Central Coast as a whole! What’s the secret to their success?

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Drought Impact on Tourism

Know any good rain dances?

It’s now official: California is in a major drought, and all users have been asked to cut back by at least 20%. This reduction should be embraced by the local tourism industry ASAP. If not, it is easy to imagine that even greater reductions will be demanded in future and / or penalty rates for “excess” water usage implemented.

Hotels and restaurants should implement the following ASAP:

• Place stickers on the mirrors of bathrooms, asking people to be avoid wasting water, and mentioning the current drought as cause. (I remember seeing these while staying at a local hotel during the last drought.)

• Ask that guests only leave towels on the floor if they want them replaced with fresh ones. It may also help to give give guests staying more than one night an incentive to do so – e.g. discount coupon from local restaurant etc.

Note: I have stayed at places heat claimed they would only replace the towels if left on the floor, but then they replaced them with fresh ones in any case. Another hotel promised a discount if not replaced, but then made the coupon almost impossible to redeem. AVOID!

• Only provide paper cups in rooms, instead of glass or plastic. (Yes, plastic can be thrown away, but they are not recyclable.) These are safer in any case.

• Review the toiletries provided, so that they do not take a long time for the shampoo, conditioner or soap to come out. I once stayed at a local hotel whose bottles were impossible to squeeze, and the shampoo and conditioner took FOREVER to flow out. In the meantime, the water in the shower was being going down the drain as I waited, waited, waited. This water emergency may be a good time to implement the shampoo / soap / conditioner dispensers used in a growing number of hotels.

• Investigate if newer low-water usage toilets would be advisable. If so, start replacing now, before the number of visitors start increasing in April. (I’m assuming shower heads have already been updated.)

• Investigate if water use by hotel pools could be reduced. Perhaps cover at night to reduce evaporation? (This would also reduce heat loss, BTW.)

• Look at ways to reduce water used for landscaping. Hardscape some areas? Reduce watering times? Use more drought-tolerant plants?  Review and see if “gray water”  recycling may be an economical option for water used in the laundry.

• Review if it would be economical to implement rain water harvesting from roofs for landscaping use. This may pay off if the property has appropriate space for the storage tanks and significant water use for landscaping.

• Gather suggestions from staff on ways to reduce water usage. Provide a simple fun bonus if monthly goals water reduction goals are met. (Monthly pizza party for staff?)

• Test using recyclable dishes, explaining the reason in signage and menus.

• Review your marginal cost of an extra guest. Is the extra $___ worth it, if your property starts having to pay surcharges for higher water use?

• Come to know and love your water meter. “If it can’t be measured, it can’t be controlled” as the old management adage indicates. Make water use one of your key tracked metrics, up there with RevPAR and ADR!  Your monthly water bill should NOT come as a surprise when you open your monthly bill!

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Savor the Central Coast – Questions

The December 18, 2013 issue of the San Luis Obispo Tribune (page B1) finally announced the results of the 4th Annual “Sunset Sunset Savor the Central Coast LogoSavor The Central Coast”. The event itself was held in late September 2013.

I only have the results as reported by the Tribune article. A search of the website visitsanluisobispocounty.com did not reveal the full version of the research report, even on the member page: visitsanluisobispocounty.com/members-area .

Some thoughts:

• Since the event budget was about $1.3 million, was there enough bang for the buck?

Still only 35% of the attendees were from out of the area. If similar to the first Savor event in 2010, a significant number of these out of town visitors stayed with friends / family / second home they owned in the area. Since the vast majority of attendees were couples sharing rooms, my “back of the envelope” figures therefore implies only about 811 room-nights x two nights.

(5935 tickets to main event x 35% visitors x 70% staying in hotels)/ 1.8 people per room.  Since there are about 9,000 lodging rooms in the county, this event appears to have used about 9% of the capacity for two nights. Nice, but what about the other 363 days of the year?

• Since one of the key reasons to hold this event is PR, is there a problem here?

The article did not reveal any PR statistics: number of impressions, ad value equivalent etc. A Google search on my computer for “Sunset Savor 2013” revealed in the first three pages of results only official PR mentions, a few minor blog posts, but no mentions in key media: LA Times, San Francisco newspapers etc. (Your results may vary.)  Since SLO County Tourism per Smith Travel Research reports is lagging the state of California, there does not seem to be a halo effect from earlier years’ PR for the event.

• Has the event hit a wall of resistance?

Even the Tribune article mentioned that attendance declined this year (despite an improved economy), and the event lost over $130K, up from last year.

• Is the event taking up too much staff time and attention at Visit San Luis Obispo County?

For example, per the monthly activity stats posted on the member page, the website is now receiving only about 20K visitors a month – down about 60% of the level of four years ago. The $130K subsidy of the event would pay for about 260K Google / Facebook ad clicks and thus likely DOUBLING monthly website visitors.

• Should other elements of the event be changed?

For example, as pointed out in an earlier blog post, Napa County’s VERY similar event is held on the slow season of late November.

Ah well, “A fool can ask more questions than a wise man can answer”.

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Flavor! Napa Valley vs. Savor Central Coast

Has the Student learned more than the teacher?

The famous artist Picasso one claimed “Good artists copy; great artists steal with both hands”. With this in mind, let’s look at what Napa and SLO County have done in certain key tourism promotions in recent years, and especially with Flavor! Napa Valley and Savor Central Coast.

While doing this, let’s keep in mind Napa’s recent success in gaining tourism dollars vs. SLO County. Following are based on the Smith Travel Research reports published on the California Tourism website.

> Vallejo / Napa RevPAR increased 45% from 2007- 2012, vs. SLO’s 6% Increase

> Napa (new series) RevPAR is up over 10% for the first 9 months of 2013 (vs 2012) vs. SLO’s 7.4%.

Some key dates:

Visit San Luis Obispo County  marketed “FallFest” as general event umbrella from 2005 – 2007 for “shoulder season” Sept – November events. Later dropped.

Visit Napa Valley marketed “Cabernet Season” starting in 2011 as general umbrella for “off-season” late Fall – April events. Actively promoted on their website.

• SLO County launched January “Restaurant Month” in 2006. No information for 2014 found on website.

• Napa County launched January “Restaurant Month” in 2011. Information for 2014 already posted on website.

• SLO launched “Sunset Savor Central Coast” as a “shoulder season” late September event in 2010.

• Napa launched “Flavor! Napa Valley” as an “off-season” late November event in 2011.

• Both “Savor” and “Flavor” have similar attendance of about 3,500.

• Flavor’s marquee event is $325 vs. $85 for Savor.

• “Savor” is managed by the the non-profit “Visit San Luis Obispo County”.

• ”Flavor” is managed by a professional event management company: Karlitz & Company.

• “Savor” is actively marketed with Sunset Magazine.

• ”Flavor Napa Valley” was heavily promoted in the Western Edition of the Wall Street Journal (Sat-Sun, Oct. 26 – 27, 2013).

• Savor has lost money each year 2010-2012 (2013 stats not yet released).

• Flavor claims to be a fundraiser. (No numbers found)

It appears that Napa has taken ideas from SLO,  and then successfully tweaked them to achieve even better results. Time to steal some of their revisions?

Posted in SLO County Lodging, SLO County Wineries | Comments Off

Winery Tourism Doing Very Well – If You’re Napa and Sonoma

Visit California Logo

Source for California Tourism Statistics

California Tourism recently published the Smith Travel Research stats for the California Lodging Industry through the third Quarter of 2013. The interesting trends seen though the first half have continued.

Looking at RevPAR (Revenue per Available Room, the key lodging industry metric) for the first nine months of 2013 vs. Same period in 2012:

The good news:  Central Coast is up from 5.4 % (Ventura/Oxnard) to 7.4% (SLO/Paso Robles) with Monterey and  Santa Barbara in between. As a region, up 6.9%.

The bad news: Overall California RevPAR is up 8.4% over the same period.

So the comments I continue to hear about a great local season are true. However, most other areas are having an even better time…

The good news: As Mentioned, the SLO/Paso Wine Region is up 7.4%.

The bad news: Santa Rosa (i.e. Sonoma County) and Napa are still very much eating our (winery) lunch. Actually, it is eating all the Central Coast lunches, if you also factor in that Monterey and Santa Barbara also have significant wine tourism. Santa Rosa RevPAR is up an incredible 15.2% so far this year, and even Napa, a laggard in recent years, is up 10.8%.

Looking at actual average RevPAR for each region  is informative. Napa’s RevPAR for the YTD is $179.38 – over twice (!)  that of SLO’s ($88.19). Santa Rosa / Sonoma’s RevPAR is $78.68.  So the high-end is doing very well, as is the lower end. So why is the Central Coast losing so much market share – and tourism dollars? Thoughts?

So stayed tuned for the last quarter of the 2013…

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SEO Strategies every Company Must Master

Leading Provider of Marketing Automation Software

I attended this very good webinar Thursday morning, Oct. 31, hosted by Website Magazine. The presenter was Martin Laetsch, of Act-On.com.

Just some of the Basic Takeaways include:

• Google is now believed to be making about 500 algorithm changes per year. So don’t even think you can tweak your site for each one.

• Main and most important SEO plan: Provide Pages That Delight Humans – i.e. Content is King.

• Goal is to provide the BEST Possible Page on the Internet for your target Keywords.

• Work to get  links from pages that you would actually want to be on, whether or not Google gives them value at present. (e.g. are these pages your potential clients go to?)

• Provide “Authorship” – i.e. link much of your content to a real person, that can be verified through Google+

• Set a canonical URL – i.e. make sure you indicate to Google what is the “real” page when mulitples exist (eg. example.com, www. example.com, example.com/index.htm etc.)

• When relevant, use schema.org guidelines to present your complex data in a way that is understood clearly by the Google, Bing, Yahoo bots etc.

• Provide responsive design, i.e. your website should change appropriately as device  / sizes change. This webinar offered www.zurb.com as a good example. (Load this site onto your desktop, and notice how it changes as you make the screen smaller.) Note: Another webinar offered www.microsoft.com as another good example of this dynamic changing.

• Blog at least once a month.

• If your site is video heavy, try to provide text transcripts.

• Keyword research is harder, now that Google is hiding much of this in their analytics, but there are work-arounds. (These alternate methods were provided in the  verbal commentary of the webinar.)

Note: This is my 101st blogpost on this site…

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