Recent Tourism Marketing Changes in SLO County

Chuck Davison, ED of Visit San Luis Obispo County

The last six weeks had seen some turnover in local Tourism organizations. The Tourism Advisory Committee of the Arroyo Grande Chamber of Commerce has selected a new ad agency, selecting RG Pacific of Los Angeles as its new ad agency. This agency has no local clients at present, but hopes to use its 2015-16 promotions for Arroyo Grande Tourism as a selling point to gain other Destination Marketing Organizations (DMO’s) as clients.

In nearby Pismo Beach, Gordon Jackson has been named the successor to Suzen Brasile. Suzen, of course, just retired after many years heading the tourism promotion office for the City of Pismo Beach. Gordon is no stranger to the local tourism industry, having managed and marketed several local properties, most recently the Hilton Garden Inn off Highway 101 in Pismo Beach. Gordon has also served on the Boards of both the Pismo Beach Conference and Visitors Bureau, and Visit San Luis Obispo County.

Chuck Davison, who moved to SLO County a few years ago, was promoted in May to Executive Director of Visit San Luis Obispo County. He is certainly hitting the ground running. At his recent speech in June at “Good Morning SLO”, Chuck mentioned that Visit SLO County has already commissioned two studies – an in-market study of visitors, and an out-of market study as to who visits here – and not – and why.

These studies should yield actionable information, as SLO County expands its marketing activities further into Southern California and north into the Bay area. SLO County even intends to market into Las Vegas, which has direct flights into nearby Santa Maria. It will also market in Phoenix, which does have direct flight connections to SLO airport. Chuck also mentioned that Visit SLO County was also selecting a new ad agency for its vastly expanded marketing efforts.

Even though most lodging properties I talk to claim that business is great, Chuck has pointed out in his talk that average room nights per visit in SLO County have fallen to about 1.7, while Monterey and Santa Barbara remain in the range of 2.3 – 2.4 nights per visit. A friend also tells me that Morro Bay properties – except for the very low end -are also suffering. So here’s hoping!

<Do go to Linked In for more details about both Gordon Jackson and Chuck Davison. Both have extensive – and current – biographies.>

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Fiberglass “Cow Parade” coming to SLO County in 2016

At the recent SLO Chamber of Commerce Expo, I discovered that a really fun event of interest to tourists will be coming to SLO County in 2016. Dozens of fiberglass cows (close to life size) will be purchased by sponsors, decorated by local artists, and then displayed to the public. The local event organizers hope to have about 40 of these fiberglass cows grazing in different locales though-out San Luis Obispo county. These will be displayed February – May 2016. Then they get auctioned off and the net proceeds donated to local charities. Do go their website for more details and sponsorship information.

This “Cows Parade” has the potential for making a really fun event, and a good tourist draw / reason for staying longer. Several years ago, my wife and I were in Maine, and made what we thought would be a quick stop in the small city of Belfast, Maine. It turned out that Belfast was hosting a very similar “bear” festival, with dozens of decorated life-size fiberglass bears on display though-out their downtown.

The Belfast bears were absolutely funny and charming. My wife and I ended up staying in Belfast most of the rest of the day, so that we could see all of them. (Do a Google image search for  “Belfast Maine Bears” to see some images.)

While the “Cow Parade” is a licensed event that only happens once in a location, there would always be the option of using other animals / figures in future years. Years ago, Los Angeles had decorated angels (=Los Angeles, get it?). Santa Rosa, CA – hometown of Charles Schulz of “Charlie Brown fame- has displayed Charlie Brown characters in the past. One year city sponsors had the “Summer of Woodstock”, using the small bird  “Woodstock” from the comic strip, as the main theme. (See pix. )

In a similar vein, Cambria’s delightful “Scarecrow Fest” in October has also proved to be a  fun and popular annual event. So sponsors, get out your check books for an inexpensive way to guarantee a tourist draw to your business. Here’s to a new fun event that can be enjoyed by locals and visitors throughout SLO County.

Posted in SLO County Attractions | Comments Off

Attracting Foreign Visitors to The Central Coast

Not appealing to Germans???

San Luis Obispo County has a wealth of attractions: Hearst Castle, beaches, wine country, etc. As Americans desiring to attract other American visitors, so far so good.


It may sound obvious, but what is of interest to Americans may be of little interest to people from another country. Think about it: Americans do not travel to England for its beaches, which are indeed popular with its own locals. Americans flock to England, a country with a reputation for bad food and worse weather  – because of its cultural importance.

Thus, merely translating the American-oriented “10 Ten Reasons to Visit” your area may have little attraction – OR a great deal – depending on the country.

I still remember being asked, years ago, to translate into German the top 10 reasons to visit SLO County, and coming across “Surfing”. I objected, pointing out that perhaps 10 people surf in all of Germany (OK, maybe there are 11), and if they surf, they go to Hawaii, Bali or Zuma Beach in Los Angeles. NOT SLO County.

On the other hand, I knew that Germans flock to natural hot spring spas, an attraction which would not normally make the local top-10 list. I found out later from a German friend that Germans also LOVE pelicans (another minor local attraction), because of a beloved German children’s story involving them. Even I, who lived in Germany over a year, did not know of this.

On the other hand, Surfing IS of interest to Australians, so it’s not like only Americans will interested in this attraction.

I DO know that Bing and Google translations suck. Big time. Do NOT rely on them. Years ago, I tested several pages of our English language website by putting then into the Google German translation engine. Hilarity ensued. Addresses on “Marsh” Street were now on “Swamp” Street. The “Mission” San Luis Obispo became “Project” San Luis Obispo. Other errors abounded. Things seem to be little better now: Facebook posts in Finnish remain total gibberish when Bing attempts to translate them.

So, two key takeaways. One: If you want to try to appeal to visitors from a particular country, research into what appeals to them.  Don’t assume you know. For example, Germans drink wine, but are not (yet) familiar with the concept of going “wine tasting” at the actual wineries. They may want to try wine tasting while here, but it’ll take “some spalin’ to do”. (To quote Ricky Ricardo.)

Secondly, get your pages translated by a native speaker. Even though the visitors may speak fluent English, reading a web page in their native language, mentioning touch points that specifically appeal to their nationality, can’t hurt. It will also help you in Google, but that’s a whole ‘nother topic…


Posted in Blog: Central Coast Tourism Industry, Santa Maria Tourism, SLO County Attractions, SLO County Wineries, Uncategorized | Comments Off

Central Coast Tourism Council Meeting Results

Kindle Voyage ad using "Road Trip Theme"

If an Amazon ad can quote the Central-Coast resident John Steinbeck, certainly the CCTC can as well.

The Central Coast Tourism Council had an all-day meeting in Ventura, California on March 26, 2014. Key presenters included Lynn Carpenter, VP of Marketing for “Visit California” and Carl Ribaudo, Principal of Strategic Marketing Group. Following are some of the key take-aways.

• “Visit California” will have its budget doubled over the next three years. There is a good chance that its usual grant of $30K to CCTC will also double over that time.

• Visit California promotions will rest on “Five Pillars”: Family, Food/Wine, Arts, Outdoors and Luxury.

• Even though “International” makes up only about 6% of visitors, they account for about 19% of the tourism dollars spent.

• Visit California’s six “Tier One” markets will continue to be: US, UK, Australia, Mexico, China, Brazil. (These have permanent offices and receive the most promotional dollar spend.) Tier Two Markets are: Japan, South Korea, Germany, France. Tier Three Markets are India, Scandinavia, Italy and The Netherlands.

• The California Central Coast scores very highly as a Destination of interest to potential visitors from the UK and Canada; two of the key target markets for California.

• Partly because of its growing clout as an international destination, the CCTC was encouraged by Carl Ribaudo of Strategic Marketing Group to develop its own co-op programs and offer participation in these programs to other destinations in California, instead of waiting for other California destinations to offer coop programs to the CCTC.

• The CCTC was also encouraged by Carl Ribaudo to de-emphasize marketing its “features” (events, wine food, activities etc.) and instead emphasize its “benefits”. Work to emphasize the experience – “It’s not the destination, it’s the ride” /  “Sense of place”, “Highway 1 means something different to everyone” / “Tell us your Highway 1 Story” etc.

It was pointed out that John Steinbeck, Jack Keroac and Henry Miller (and other famous writers) all wrote extensively about their wonderful experiences on the Central Coast. (Note the recent print ad for the “KindleVoyage” – shown above- found in the April 13 edition of Forbes Magazine.)

• This suggested new promotional orientation was positively greeted by the attendees and implementation was to be discussed at the Board Meeting immediately following the conference. “This would include targeting the “low-hanging fruit” that could be rapidly implemented.

• This new concept will still keep #TheOriginalRoadTrip tagline. There was agreement to de-emphasize “Highway 1” terminology outside of California, since it has little recognition outside the state.

• The Membership / Web Committee (these two committees will probably be merged) discussed this new promotional orientation. It was suggested that this new promotion would allow the website to “own” the concept, especially if people mention two or more locations in their positive reminisces. This, and other implications will be discussed in future committee meetings.

• The Marketing Committee will probably be renamed the International Marketing Committee, since that is its emphasis.

• Since the marketing plan will need to be revamped, there will probably be a new 1-day workshop, with committee meetings, before May 1.


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Good, but still needs improvement

Visit California recently published the Smith Travel Report (STR) for full year 2014 for the State of California. As always, interesting results when looking at the results for the Central Coast and  it sub-regions vs. other regions of the State.

For comparison’s sake, let’s compare to last year’s analysis.

Feb 2014 I wrote: 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. 

Full year 2014 results are even better: California as a whole had an increase of 10.6% in RevPAR in December, though room demand increased just 5.9% in December.

Feb 2014 I wrote: 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%. One assumes the improved economy and lack of rain in December helped increase nonbusiness travel in December.

2014 results: Room sold in the Central Coast as a whole lagged: up just 3% in December, with the state average in crease of 5.9%. The increase in the December RevPAR lagged far behind the state as a whole – even though the Central Coast was up 8.0%, the state average increase was an incredible 14.9%!

Feb 2014 I wrote: 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%. 

2014 Results: The four sub-regions showed a bit more differentiation in RevPAR for 2014. Oxnard/Ventura increased 11.9% (almost double the increase of last year!), Monterey / Salinas increased 8.7%, Santa Barbara / Santa Maria increased 11.1% and San Luis Obispo / Paso Robles increased 9.5%.

Feb 2014 I wrote: Part of the relative weakness of the Central Coast seems to 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 Oakland (nobody’s idea of a vacation destination) RevPAR increased 11.9% for the year. 

2014 Results: RevPAR in San Francisco Bay area  increased by 12.9% for the year. (The other areas are no longer reported separately.) So still teh business story?

Feb 2014 I wrote: 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? 

2014 Results: Napa fell to earth with only a 6.3% increase in RevPAR for the year, and Santa Rosa had a 10.3% increase – similar to the Central Coast Regions. Of course, Napa’s average ADR (Average Daily Rate) is $274.98 – more than $100 above Santa Barbara’s $171.77 rate, and almost $95 above Monterey’s $180.08 – the two highest ADR’s of the four Central Coast regions.

So net, net? Central Coast region doing well; other regions in California doing even better on average. So once, again a “B” grade for the year. Thoughts?

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SMG Consulting – “2015 Tourism Outlook” Now Available – Free

SMG Consulting for Destination Marketing Organizations

SMG Consulting – well known on the Central Coast of California as insightful Tourism Consultants for Destination Marketing Organizations – has just released their 2015 Tourism Outlook. This report is available on their website as a free download. You can also watch and listen to the Complimentary  Slideshow, narrated by Carl Ribaudo, SMG Principal.

The study focuses on three key trends: Climate Change, Demographic Change and Tourism Funding. Listen and learn that “It’s not all about wine tasting” and be introduced to “parkour”. (I had never heard of it before this report.) So watch, listen and learn about these topics and much more.

Posted in Santa Maria Tourism, SLO County Attractions, SLO County Lodging | Comments Off

Facebook Promotional Posts “Phase Out”

Facebook Logo

Surprise, Surprise – Facebook wants you to Pay to reach your fans.

Facebook announced last Friday (11/14/14) that it would be phasing out free promotional posts. (See article in the Nov. 15-16, Wall Street Journal, page B3).

The reality is apparently a bit more complicated, and we won’t find out the true impact of their algorithm change until it goes into effect in January. Apparently blatant “buy now” will be discouraged in Facebook posts.

I have great sympathy for Facebook – businesses often seem to expect Facebook to provide its services for free; it is paid for by advertising after all. Facebook can’t show every post that a person might be entitled to, so they have to winnow to what Facebook feels / knows is most likely to be appreciated by the user.

I do hope that the non-profits I help out are not hurt by this change. Posts about shows (especially with video clips) are extremely popular.

An analyst for Forrester Research was even quoted yesterday on CNBC that businesses should even consider stop advertising; according to him, most ads did not perform well.  According to him, Facebook should know by now what ads worked, so he was blaming Facebook, not the advertiser, for the poor results. This seems strange to me – I see a lot of bad print ads in magazines and stupid TV commercials; I don’t blame the magazine or TV Network – I blame the advertiser.

At the end of the day, have your Facebook posts be interesting to real people, and design them to be good promoted posts, because that may be the best way to insure reach in future. While some posts go viral for unknown reasons, the basics are clear – a good hook of interest to readers, a good photo, a good video and a simple and easy call to action. Need anything more?


Posted in Tech Tip - Social Media | Comments Off

Pinterest Integration with Business Marketing

Michaels In-Store Catalog

Michaels uses Pinterest in Creative way to Increase Sales

This past weekend I came across what I have to be a good integration of social media and marketing. I had to buy something at Michaels, the crafts store. Turns out Michaels had just held a special “Make it with Michaels Pinterest Party”.

This Pinterest Party included the following elements:

• In store booklet with ideas, “how to” directions, and approximate priding. (The book was not specific to the store, that all stores could use the same book, or the details of the specific store could be imprinted on the front.)

• In-store coupon on the back of the booklet, good only for the 5 hours (the three hours of the party, plus one hour on each side of the event.

• In-store assistance on finding the components, and advice on assembling.

• Request that people take a photo of their end result, and then post it to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, complete with the #MadewithMichaels hashtag.

• Multiple in-booklet references to a specific Michaels page on Pinterest:

• Multiple references to the Michaels website, also with craft ideas.

Admittedly, Michaels seems a natural store to promote Pinterest, but other businesses could be creative and “borrow” the ideas here. What about a a special winery tasting room or gift-shop  event with creative ways of using their gift items, or wrapping their wine bottles as gifts? Be creative. Women into crafts are likely to visit and post to the business’ websites, Facebook pages. Pinterest pages etc.


Posted in SLO County Restaurants, SLO County Wineries, Tech Tip - Social Media, Tech Tip - Website | Comments Off

Overlay Tourism Promotion District for SLO County?

Question Marks

What could the Central Coast do to increase market share?

The San Luis Obispo Tribune just printed a major editorial (Sunday, November 9, 2014; page B6) in support of a county-wide Tourism Business Improvement District. If enacted, there would be a 1% surcharge on all lodging bills in SLO County; this would net the “BID” (Business Improvement District) about $3 million per year at current rates. This would be in addition to the current Tourism BID districts that exist in most areas of the county.

Certainly, the money would help greater promotion of SLO County. Most visitors to SLO come from within California, and California is one of the most expensive media markets in the USA, if not world. As many blog posts have pointed out, SLO County tourism is NOT growing as fast as the rest of the state.

Nevertheless, one wonders about the full ramifications. As mentioned, most cities, and indeed most of SLO County, are already represented by BID’s. With overlapping BID’s, who is responsible / to blame for increases and decreases in travel?

The editorial mentions that the new BID would be responsible for representing all the many tourism draws (Hearst Castle, beaches, wine country etc.) However, most BID’s already promote them anyway – distances in SLO County are not all that great, and the BID’s want to hook onto what they know will attract visitors.

Still, at the end of the day, LOTS of money is needed to promote SLO County. And it would be nice to see one organization with overall responsibility. This organization would also be the perfect one to act as the Film Commission for SLO County and encourage more filming here.


Posted in SLO County Attractions, SLO County Lodging, SLO County Restaurants, SLO County Wineries, Uncategorized | Comments Off

Tourism Destination Marketing on Pinterest – Revisited

The November 3, 2014 issue of Forbes Magazine has a very interesting article about Pinterest “Social Media’s New Mad Men” by Jeff Bercovici. (Note – the online version of the article has a different title.)

Pinterest Icons

Crack For Women aka Customers

The beginning sentences of the subhead offer some of the key insights: “Facebook monetizes the past. Twitter the present. Pinterest, by organizing what you might do or buy in the future.”

The article does confirm the trend since Pinterest’s inception that 80% of the users are women. These people “pin”  (i.e. post) images they come across on the web that appeal to them, be it of shoes, dresses – or travel destinations. The idea – per the article – is that posting implies intention. The spin of the article is that while Facebook may know you like to travel, pictures a person posts of a specific travel implies interest in travel to that location, even before they “Google” about that location. The skew towards women helps tourism marketing, as women are the main travel planners for ccouples and families.

From my personal experience, I do know that these posts – unlike Facebook – have “legs”. That is to say, the posts have a life, long after they are pinned. Many months ago, I “re-pinned” (which means I pinned onto my own boards photos already pinned by someone else) a batch of wonderful travel photos of Germany. Not a week goes by that I don’t receive notification from Pinterest that someone has  has further repinned one or more of these photos.

So you marketers of travel destinations (which includes the entire Central Coast of California) , get your best destination photos onto Pinterest ASAP, since organizations can directly upload to boards they maintain. And do NOT forget to imbed text declaring the source, so that if the image is endlessly re-pinned, the specific location remains clear. Do this on both the images you directly upload, as well as images on your website that people may want to pin.

Posted in Santa Maria Tourism, SLO County Attractions, SLO County Lodging, SLO County Wineries, Tech Tip - Social Media, Uncategorized | Comments Off