West Coast
Santa Cruz's iconic surf culture is among its many attractions for tourists from around the globe. (Shutterstock)

Santa Cruz County Tourism Hits $1 Billion For First Time Ever

SANTA CRUZ COUNTY, CA — For the first time in Santa Cruz County history, the tourism industry reached the $1 billion mark.

The 2018 figures were provided by Visit Santa Cruz County, which attributed the milestone to several factors, including a strong push to attract foreign visitors. Along with domestic travelers, tourists from Britain, Germany and Australia are visiting with high frequency, as are nearby Canadians, according to Christina Glynn, communications director/film commissioner for Visit Santa Cruz County.

The county's tourism spending has made steady gains over the last eight years, according to Glynn, with 2017 figures hitting the $976 million mark. The dollars are tallied based on tourism spending in various sectors such as lodging, food service and other tourism-specific categories, Glynn said. But "growth potential is limited" in Santa Cruz County because the regions is not flush with hotels, convention centers or airports, Glynn explained. What Santa Cruz County does offer, however, is unique: iconic Highway 1, legendary surf culture, coastal redwoods, a thriving arts scene, boutique wineries and a robust farm-to-table movement. "Our challenge is to differentiate ourselves from other California coastal destinations," Glynn said.

That differentiation is being helped along by a bigger marketing budget for Visit Santa Cruz County. In 2010, the county moved to a new funding innovation called the "TBID" or "Tourism Business Improvement District." The TBID is controlled by the county's tourism-related businesses who agree to an assessment on their guests. A significant portion of that money is then redirected to support local tourism marketing and tourism-related projects. Prior to the TBID (which is uniform across Santa Cruz County, Glynn said), funding for tourism marketing came from the "Transient Occupancy Tax" (hotel bed tax). The difficulty was that other vital regional services competed for those dollars, which typically meant a smaller tourism budget. When the TBID system was implemented in Santa Cruz County, the Visit Santa Cruz County marketing budget more than doubled to $2.2 million, Glynn said.

Today, several California regions have TBIDs in place, and statewide tourism continues to increase. Tourism spending in California reached $140.6 billion in 2018, a 5.4 percent uptick over the previous year, according to Visit California's annual economic impact report. It marks the ninth consecutive year that tourism spending has increased in the state.

See The Patch article . . .