Some folks in San Benito County may find this surprising, but the truth is that you can’t have a tourist Mecca without tourists. Those who are dedicated to capturing those great tourist dollars, but oppose any development or change that might make it easier for the tourists to come, spend, or find accommodations just confound me.
As I wrote years ago, they prefer that the tourists come via teleportation and leave the same way – preferably before the sun goes down, and only on designated days of the week. Perhaps that’s the way they go touring, but the facts suggest otherwise.
The last full state data for Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) was for 2011 and last was the right word as far as we were concerned. Dividing the total TOT generated by the cities and unincorporated county areas and dividing it by the 2012 population, San Benito County had the lowest per capita total TOT of any county in the state, $3.78.
The state median was $23.70, meaning that half the total county TOT per capita were more than $23.70 and half less. Some of the numbers were amazing, Mono $937, Mariposa $593, Inyo $230, etc. Only ten counties generated less than $10 per capita. The average was a ridiculous $73.32; more interesting and a better goal was the population weighted-average of $38.62.
The TOT is a good proxy for business and tourist economic activity; the business-oriented hotels in Santa Clara are often empty on weekends when the tourist-oriented hotels in Monterey are filing up – and the other way around on weekdays.
Our 2011 position anchored as number 58 of 58 counties should be cause for alarm. The total TOT generated in Fresno County was $10.74 per capita, if we had that we would have an added $400,000 a year for public services. If we had the state’s weighted-average, we would be $2 million more to the good side.
The TOT is often called the “welcome stranger tax” because that’s whose pocket is lightened; for a county like San Benito it could be called the “get a little tax back” because San Francisco takes $260 a head, Monterey $96, Santa Cruz $35, and Santa Clara $33.
Of course, tourists do not just want accommodations – they want to be accommodated. That means easy access to gas, food, rooms, and destinations be they the Pinnacles National Park, the Motorcycle Rally, the Wine Trail, Hollister Hills, or just a look at rural California. Add more local destinations and you get more tourist traffic.
They will not use teleportation before it’s safe and perfected, until then they will drive, and they do not want to be hunting for a gas station, food, a room or be shooed into bed at 10 pm because we don’t want them around.
If the county residents reject even easy tourist-friendly strategies such as signage, gas stations, franchise restaurants and road name changes strictly out of parochial interest, they should not complain about the low service levels they receive; we cannot afford more. It’s their decision, but they must be reminded that every decision has consequences.