Council opts out of regional hotel promotion
By Peter Dugré
When the Santa Barbara South Coast Tourism Improvement District conducts its hotel assessment and promotion operations between 2015 and 2020, Goleta and Santa Barbara hotels will pay into the system without Carpinteria on board. At the Sept. 22 Carpinteria City Council meeting, the council was unable to find a majority of votes to continue participation in the assessment district, which charges South Coast hotels between $.75 and $4 per room night for tourism promotion.
Kathy Janega-Dykes, President and CEO of Visit Santa Barbara, the organization through which most of the funds flow, touted the work of her company as being partially responsible in the uptick in hotel occupancy since 2010. Visit Santa Barbara operates a website and prints a 90-page magazine to promote Santa Barbara’s South Coast in addition to placing advertisements about the Santa Barbara area in target publications. Visit Santa Barbara expected to have an approximately $5 million annual operating budget, of which Carpinteria hotels and vacation rentals were to account for 5 percent starting in 2015.
City staff had recommended that the council vote to continue participating in the hotel assessment district, which it has been part of since its inception in 2010. City Manager Dave Durflinger said the city stands to benefit from a boost to tourism when the entire Santa Barbara region is promoted. “In general, we know a lot of promotion of the Santa Barbara region in part benefits Carpinteria. Just how much? It’s hard to know,” Durflinger said. He called it, “more art than science.”
A portion of the assessment money paid into the district was allotted to the Carpinteria Valley Chamber of Commerce and earmarked for placing advertising specifically promoting Carpinteria rather than the region as a whole. The chamber had received $25,000 annually and was expected to receive $43,000 when the district was renewed at the start of 2015 following an increase in the assessment rate.
Assessments to the business district are separated from hotel bed taxes, which are paid to the City of Carpinteria. Hotels are responsible to pay the assessment and did not necessarily have to assess hotel guests on their bills, although many did pass the cost directly to hotel guests.
Council members Fred Shaw and Wade Nomura appeared ready to allow the assessment district to continue operating in Carpinteria, but Vice Mayor Gregg Carty and Councilmember Al Clark were against participating beyond 2015. Mayor Brad Stein recused himself from the topic due to a conflict of interest.
Carty was concerned that there had been a lack of input from Holiday Inn Express and Best Western in Carpinteria, hotels he considered more “destination” hotels than other lodging properties in the area. Holiday Inn had written a letter against participating in the assessment district prior to its initial formation in 2010. Only 50 percent plus one of regional hotels must vote to participate in order for all hotels to have to participate in the regional district. However, the City of Carpinteria must also vote to allow the operation of the district within the city, which its actions on Sept. 22 precluded.
Nomura motioned to continue a vote until the next city council meeting in order to give time for representatives of area hotels to provide input to council, but Clark and Carty voted against continuing the issue. No council member motioned to approve operation of the district within Carpinteria city limits, so the issue was tabled, and Carpinteria hotels will not pay into the assessment district beyond 2015.
Clark and Carty had both supported the initial formation of the district. But regarding its continuation, Clark asked, “How much tourism is too much tourism?” He said he believed Carpinteria is “on the map,” as evidenced by people knowing about it wherever he traveled. “We’ve been well promoted, and we’re well known,” he said.
Janega-Dykes advised, “I want to make it clear that if this is not supported, Visit Santa Barbara would not be able to include the City of Carpinteria in any of our marketing materials.”
The city council will meet again Oct. 13 when it will consider whether to officially take stances on ballot Measures P and U. “It’s going to be the measures meeting,” commented Stein. Measure P asks voters to ban certain oil extraction techniques for new drilling projects in unincorporated areas of Santa Barbara County, and Measure U is a $90 million bond measure for Carpinteria Unified School District school upgrades.