Local community officials and business leaders met on Jan. 27 at the Hollister Veterans’ Memorial Building for the San Benito County Tourism Symposium to discuss ways of increasing tourism and maximizing its benefit to the economy.
The forum was presented by the Tourism Expert Network (TEN), a coalition of travel industry professionals, and Civitas, a tourism improvement consultancy. The four-hour conference delved into ways of regaining tourism lost to the pandemic and ways targeting potential visitors to the area.
According to Terry Salk, founding partner of TEN, there has been a statewide decrease of 26.8% decline in tourism-related jobs since 2019. The tourism industry is the state’s second-highest tax generator, behind retail trade, and the decline in tourism dollars has a substantial impact on the economy. He also said that within the county, travel spending has dropped 50% since 2019; local tax revenue declined 35% and state tax revenue declined 47%.
With local attractions that include Pinnacles National Park, Mission San Juan Bautista, and the San Juan Bautista State Park, and annual events like the San Juan Bautista BBQ Festival and the San Benito County Rodeo, Salk said the county would benefit highly from diverting “fly-by traffic,” travelers who do not stop while passing through the area on Highways 101 and 156.
Kelly Rankin, project manager at Civitas, suggested funding tourism-related advertising and promotion by transitioning from the current transient occupancy tax charged to visitors when they stay at hotels and motels, to the creation of a tourism improvement district (TID), an assessment paid by hotels based on revenue, or assessed per occupant. All of the revenue collected goes to capital improvements on hotels or tourism marketing.
Some nearby communities already have TIDs in place. Morgan Hill raises $410,000 through TIDs annually; Gilroy raises $375,000.
Rankin said that TIDs take about a year to be formed and approved. Local hotels would have to agree to participate and the Board of Supervisors would hold a hearing to approve any plan. Rankin estimated that a TID for San Benito county could raise anywhere from $80,951 to $242,854 per year.
Forum participants seemed open to any suggestion that would help rebuild the local tourism industry. Attendees included San Juan Bautisa City Council member John Freeman, County Supervisor Peter Hernandez, Wilbur Hurley of America’s Job Center, and Christian Pillsbury, owner of Eden Rift Winery.
“I think anything we can do as a community to bring stakeholders and leaders together under a good general plan can only benefit our community,” Pillsbury said. “It can help us drive San Benito County to a new future of compelling visitation.”
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