Humboldt Sees ‘Banner Year for Tourism’

County unincorporated areas saw 12 percent growth in hotel and lodging taxes in the last fiscal year in what’s been described as a “banner year for tourism.”

The county’s Board of Supervisors was briefed on the latest Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) revenue tallies at its March 8 meeting. In a presentation by Tony Smithers of the Humboldt Convention and Visitors Bureau, the unincorporated county area was shown to have taken in $1.5 million in TOT revenues in the fiscal that ended on June 30, 2015. That’s an increase of more than $173,000 from the previous fiscal year, or 12 percent.

The county as a whole took in $6 million of TOT, a 10 percent increase.

Smithers added that TOT revenue from July, August and September of 2015 shows even more growth.

“It’s been a banner year for tourism,” he said, adding that both occupancy and TOT rates increased. “And even since the fiscal year started in July, you had another 13 percent (total) increase over the summer — that’s particularly noteworthy, because the summer is when we’re already full so to be able to grow 13 percent in the summer means that something extraordinary is going on.”

The summertime growth rate for the county unincorporated area was even higher, at 17.6 percent, having grown from $2.1 million to $2.5 million.

The year 2013 is the most recent for the county’s visitor spending tally and Smithers said it grew by nearly 10 percent, with over $11 million generated in TOT and sales taxes.

Richard Stenger, the bureau’s marketing director, said media outreach is an important means of promoting the county as a tourist destination. He told supervisors that the 50th anniversary of the establishment of Shelter Cove was successfully pitched as a story to publications near and far.

“When Shelter Cove turned midlife — turned 50 — that actually got a lot of play in the Bay Area,” he said. The San Francisco Chronicle, NBC Bay Area and the San Francisco Examiner covered the milestone.

“And the Irish Times actually bit on this story,” Stenger added, as a writer and photographer from the Times live in San Francisco and traveled to Shelter Cove for coverage.

Stenger said other media coverage of Humboldt’s visitor appeal included articles in the National Geographic Traveler, Lonely Planet and Sunset magazines and the Press Democrat newspaper. He added that the bureau’s website at redwoods.info surpassed 2 million visits in 2015, a 16 percent increase.

Outreach to foreign tourists is also stepping up and Smithers said China is a potentially robust source of tourists, as 1.2 million Chinese travelers are projected to visit California this year.

Southern Humboldt is an important tourist destination and Laura Lasseter, the recently-hired director of the Garberville-Redway Chamber of Commerce, told supervisors of some new approaches to drawing visitors.

“We’re evaluating some positive changes to make Southern Humboldt more of a destination,” she said.

Those include partnering with the Mateel Community Center, which Lasseter said “brings in thousands of visitors as a destination.” The chamber is also “reaching out to our KOAs [KOA campgrounds] and doing more marketing with them, being more present in the southern part of Mendocino County, bringing in visitors as a gateway to Humboldt County,” she continued.

The Convention and Visitors Bureau gets 16 percent of the county’s TOT revenue for marketing and promoting tourism. The payment is arranged through three-year contracts with the bureau and the current one ends on June 30.

Interim County Administrative Officer Cheryl Dillingham said renewal of the contract will be negotiated as the expiration date nears.

“If I was to give any direction, I’d say give them what they need,” said Supervisor Estelle Fennell. “I think they’re doing a great job for the county and we should continue supporting them.”