Santa Cruz Good Times

Sunday
May 24th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Pulling Together

news2After a recession-induced slump, the local tourism industry finds its footing

Along with the recession’s worst impacts—ballooning unemployment and rampant foreclosures, to name but two—the option of going on vacation disappeared from many people’s summer plans.

Santa Cruz began feeling the impact of this by 2009, when visitation dipped below Santa Cruz’s economic comfort zone and the persevering visitors spent less time and less money in the county. According to Smith Travel Research, annual hotel occupancy decreased from 55.6 percent in 2008 to 48.8 percent in 2009.

“2007 was big—the bubble was going to burst eventually,” Mark Gilbert remarks.

Gilbert owns Dolphin Restaurant, Woodies Cafe, and Gilbert’s Firefish Grill on the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf. “[Restaurant] sales dropped … about 20 percent in 2008,” Gilbert says, explaining that the next couple of years were “flat.”

According to the Santa Cruz County Conference and Visitors Council [CVC], more than 80 percent of visitors to Santa Cruz in 2009 were Californians, mostly from Northern California. And while Santa Cruz County was the main destination for those visitors, most would stay for the day and drive home without staying overnight.

In light of this, the CVC, which was formed in 1988 to unify and advance the county’s tourism efforts, brought out its tool kit.

“Our goal has been to increase [overnight] stays in the off-season months,” says Maggie Ivy, CEO and executive director of the CVC. To put Santa Cruz on the map as a getaway destination, the CVC leveraged its cooperative contracts with local businesses to attract the attention of travel agencies, magazines, freelance journalists, and Hollywood—garnering Santa Cruz dozens of spots on international media outlets within a few years.

Chris Ferrante, owner of Beach Street Inn, says the CVC has been an invaluable marketing force, especially in helping to increase fall occupancy rates. Santa Cruz has seen a 10.6 percent increase in hotel occupancy since the start of 2012, compared to a 3.6 percent increase across the state and a 5.6 percent increase in Monterey, according to the CVC. 

“This September, we’ve seen an occupancy increase of about [25 percent] over last September—where a lot of that is mid-week occupancy,” Ferrante says. “And that’s directly attributed to the CVC.”

Interestingly, roughly 25 percent of those mid-week September stays were international visitors—most often from the United Kingdom, Ferrante says.

“We’re very careful about getting the market in the U.K.,” Ivy says, adding that the U.K. now accounts for more than half of Santa Cruz’s international visitation. “They really love surfing culture, [and] there is no language barrier.”

But fall isn’t entirely dependent on the international market. “We’re really starting to click with the locals this year,” Gilbert explains on a recent chilly fall afternoon. “We’re supposed to expect it to be flat [right now], but we have a full dining room.”

Kris Reyes, spokesperson for the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, which he says has enjoyed “a very strong 2012,” says the Boardwalk is also working to increase fall and winter visitation.

In addition to the popular Clam Chowder Cook-Off, he notes that the Boardwalk has added an October Chili Cook-Off, a band review, and a cheer competition to its line-up in recent years. 

Bonnie Lipscomb, the city’s director of economic development, says she feels encouraged by the sturdy up tick in numbers. “Although it’s slow, improvement is happening,” Lipscomb says.

According to the CVC’s 2009 visitor report, the main (and, largely, only) visitor complaint about Santa Cruz was the traffic. An old-fashioned trolley purchased by the Redevelopment Agency (which was absolved, along with all California RDAs, and is superseded by the Economic Development Department) premiered in 2010 to ferry riders between downtown and the Boardwalk during the summer months.

Lipscomb estimated that the quaint trolley car would have had 35,000 riders in 2012. “[A lot of visitors] didn’t know where our downtown was, and the trolley takes all of that [confusion] away,” she says.

The latest big-ticket project in the city has been the premiere of Hotel Paradox, which had its grand opening party on Sept. 22.

“That is huge,” says Lipscomb. “It’s a dramatic improvement for the area.”

Tony Eichers, general manager at Hotel Paradox, says while he can vouch for the strong U.K. presence, he is also encouraged by the bookings from California visitors.

“It’s amazing how many people come for the day, but then wind up having such a great time … they’ll say ‘let’s spend the night,’” Eichers says, adding that he estimates that walk-in bookings account for “about 10 percent of people.”

Going into the fall shoulder season, Paradox will take the tried-and-true route of offering special rates through online travel agencies such as Expedia, Travelocity, and Priceline. But because the hotel offers a fully equipped conference space, “Already we have the Oracles of the world, the Ciscos, [and] the Googles coming over the hill,” Eichers says.

In addition to Gilbert’s new restaurant plans, several hotel renovation and expansion plans are under way around town, according to Lipscomb, and the Boardwalk will be unveiling a new roller coaster in summer 2013, according to Reyes. Together, these give cause to suspect an even stronger tourism showing for 2013.

Photo credit: Keana Parker

Comments (1)Add Comment
...
written by a guest, November 26, 2012
I used to frequent Gilbert's Firefish Grill , but this last weekend following Thanksgiving was served by a severely intoxicated male waiter who was both insulting and inappropriate. I will not be giving Mark Gilbert my hard earned money to be insulted by a drunk waiter.

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Gate Openers

Up-and-coming artists like Ryan Bingham are a great reason to show up early to the Santa Cruz American Music Festival

 

Gemini Sun, Pentecost, Shavuot—Enlightenment and Gladness

As the sun enters Gemini on Sunday, sign of speaking, communication, thinking, inter-relations, writing and understanding languages, the feast days of Pentecost & Shavuot (Catholic and Jewish festivals) occur. During Pentecost’s 50 days after Easter, tongues of fire appear above the heads of the disciples, providing them with the ability to understand all languages and all feelings hidden in the minds and hearts of humanity. It’s recorded that Pentecost began with a loud noise, which happened in an upper room (signifying the mind). The Christ (World Teacher) told his disciples (after his ascension) when encountering a man at a well carrying a water pot (signs for Age of Aquarius) to follow him to an upper room. There, the Holy Spirit (Ray 3 of Divine Intelligence) would overshadow them, expand their minds, give them courage and enable them to teach throughout the world, speaking all languages and thus able to minister to the true needs of a “seeking” humanity. Pentecost (50 days, pentagram, Ray 5, Venus, concrete and scientific knowledge, the Ray of Aquarius) sounds dramatic, impressive and scary: The loud noise, a thunderous rush of wind and then “tongues of fire” above the heads of each disciple (men and women). Fire has purpose. It purifies, disintegrates, purges, transforms and liberates (frees) us from the past. This was the Holy Spirit (Ray 3, love and wisdom) being received by the disciples, so they would teach in the world and inform humanity of the Messiah (Christ), who initiated the new age (Pisces) and gave humanity the new law (adding to the 10 Commandments of the Aries Age) to Love (Ray 2) one another. Note: Gemini is also Ray 2. Shavuot is the Jewish Festival of Gladness, the First Fruits Festival celebrating the giving of the 10 Commandments to Moses as the Aries Age was initiated. Thus, we have two developmental stages here, Jewish festival of the Old Testament. Pentecost of the New Testament. We have gladness, integrating both.

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Off Her Meds

Kristin Wiig runs wild—and transcends her sketch comedy roots—as a truly strange character ‘Welcome to Me’
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Flats Bistro

Pizza with an artisan twist comes to Aptos Beach

 

What’s your take on Santa Cruz locals?

Santa Cruz locals are really friendly once you know them. I think a lot of them have a hard time leaving, and I would too. Ryan Carle, Santa Cruz, Biologist

 

Soquel Vineyards

If Soquel Vineyards partners Peter and Paul Bargetto and Jon Morgan were walking down the street wearing their winning wine competition medals, you’d hear them coming from a mile away. This year was particularly rewarding for the Bargettos and Morgan—they won two Double Gold Medals and five Gold Medals at January’s San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

 

Enlightened Flavors

Squash & Blossom’s artisanal alternative-flour delights, beet kvass from Cafe Ivéta, and the Santa Cruz Baroque Festival