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Santa Maria Aims To Boost Tourism With New Business Improvement District

City Council is considering 2-percent fee on hotel and motel rooms to fund tourism promotion district

Jean-luc Garon, general manager of The Historic Santa Maria Inn, has been one of advocates of the formation of a Santa Maria Tourism Improvement District too boost marketing to attract more tourists.
Jean-luc Garon, general manager of The Historic Santa Maria Inn, has been one of advocates of the formation of a Santa Maria Tourism Improvement District too boost marketing to attract more tourists.          (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Santa Maria could soon have a new tool to attract more tourists.

The City Council on Tuesday night accepted comments either for or against the formation of a Santa Maria Tourism Improvement District.

The district would add a 2-percent fee on each motel or hotel room, collecting approximately $600,000 annually to market Santa Maria as a tourist, meeting and event destination, officials said.

Hotel representatives urged the City Council to support the district’s formation to put Santa Maria in a strong position to bring more tourists to town.

“I believe that it’s the perfect tool to work with the city to showcase Santa Maria and bring more people in our town,” said Jean-luc Garon, general manager of The Historic Santa Maria Inn.

More tourists will mean more guests staying overnight at hotels, eating at restaurants, visiting wineries, using gas stations and shopping in local stores, all leading to a boost in sales tax revenue for the city, he added.

JP Patel, who owns Fairfield Inn & Suites Santa Maria, said he had supported tourism business improvement districts for years in San Luis Obispo County. 

“It will enhance the ability of the city to promote itself in ways not imaginable before,” Patel said.

“With the funding that’s available and the marketing resources that we will have will generate significant returns in sales taxes back to the city.”

Another opportunity for comments will come during a City Council meeting scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Jan. 19 at City Hall. 

After hearing more comments on Jan. 19, the council will consider adopting a resolution to form the tourism improvement district.

However, if 50 percent or more of the lodging businesses file written protests, the council is barred from approving the district.

Many other local cities including Pismo Beach, Atascadero, Paso Robles, Lompoc, Buellton, Solvang and Santa Barbara already have tourism business improvement districts.

“Paso Robles has had one since 2008 and with the money collected they were able to promote Paso Robles and significantly increase tourism to their town,” Garon said.

In the seven years Patel has been involved in similar efforts in other cities, he said they led to a boost in guests even during the recession

The Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce and Visitor & Convention Bureau will manage the district. Consultants have already met with hotels and attractions to craft a marketing strategy to launch once the district is formed.

Most the marketing will highlight all the reasons people should come to Santa Maria, not focusing on any getting them to stay at a specific hotel, Chamber officials said.

Councilwoman Etta Waterfield asked how the district is different from the chamber’s current mission. 

“We’ll simply have more resources to be able to sustain campaigns, and to extend them into new markets,” said Glenn Morris, Chamber of Commerce president and chief executive officer.

Current funding is used for visitor services, supporting groups that come to Santa Maria, and marketing for specific events, such as the Santa Maria Elks Rodeo and Santa Barbara County Fair.

“What we hope the new resources will allow us to do, in addition to just increasing frequency and scope, is to push that into new markets. Get into Southern California, Northern California, other states — that’s the expectation,” Morris said.

The tourism improvement district is separate from the transient occupancy tax already tacked onto hotel room costs.

In 2012, a California Travel Association study said tourism improvement districts generated $5.50 in tax revenues for each dollar spent on tourism marketing.

If ultimately approved, the Santa Maria Tourism Improvement District would begin Feb. 1 and will have a five-year life. At the end of the five years, the district could be renewed.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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