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Travel spending within Santa Maria is approximately $114 million in total annually.

Marketing Santa Maria as a prime tourism destination is getting a major boost through a new Tourism Marketing District initiated by local hotels and approved by the City Council.

The marketing district is funded by a 2 percent tax added to hotel bills of overnight travelers.

“I think it is overdue and this will help us market our town to places we have never been able to reach before,” said Jean-luc Garon, general manager of the Historic Santa Maria Inn. “Every other town around us already has a tourism marketing district; we have no other choice but to do the same thing if we want to compete.”

The goal of the marketing district is to develop a comprehensive strategy that supports tourism by enhancing employment, the local economy and the tax base, said Gina Keough, director of the Santa Maria Valley Visitor & Convention Bureau (VCB).

“Our initial projects will encompass the creation and implementation of three key areas: Brand identity and logo development; web site design; and destination marketing services,” she said.

The process began late last year when Carl Ribaudo, president of SMG Consulting, a Lake Tahoe-based tourism, recreation and hospitality consulting firm, was hired by the VCB to develop a new strategic tourism marketing plan.

Ribaudo identified ways to increase the number of visitors to Santa Maria; heighten local awareness of the role tourism plays; and develop a business model that increases the efficiency of marketing efforts.

His process included interviewing business owners, city officials and community leaders from throughout Santa Maria to collect the information he needed to properly assess the region. He also looked at who visits the region, what they spend on average and what advertising impacts them most.

AMV4702“If you know your business, you know your market,” said Ribaudo. “Santa Marians understand the value of their close proximity to Southern California, and also appreciate that they possess a wealth of outdoor recreational attractions, culture and events all within reach of the Pacific Ocean. Like many other destinations, Santa Maria has experienced significant competition from other communities. We have looked at the city’s distinctive identity and put together a model of what Santa Maria is, so that we can make it the best it can be.”

Garon said he looks forward to seeing the process gain momentum.

“This is a long term project,” he said. “It will take at least 18 month before we can see results. Once we do, I am expecting more guests staying at the hotel, so an increase of revenues. Once we have more guests staying at the hotels, this will have a direct impact on the hotel tax, and an indirect impact on the local economy, such as restaurants, shopping, wineries, etc.”

Keough agreed.

“Unlike traditional marketing plans, which usually forecast projects for the coming year, a strategic marketing plan takes a long-term view and seeks to maximize a community’s assets in light of potential opportunities and the competition,” she said. “We are excited to have a cohesive approach for promoting the region.”