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SLO County tourism numbers show steep decline in north county, better performance in the south

Paso Robles wine country seen in this file photo from May 2020 (Dave Alley/KEYT)

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. -- Recent tourism numbers for San Luis Obispo County show COVID-19 is causing a sharp decline in performance compared to last year.

Data provided by Visit SLO CAL, the county's official marketing and management organization, indicate entire county is suffering a big downturn.

“In June 2020, hotel occupancy was at 54% across the county, compared to May 2020 which was at 37.8%. In comparison, last year, in June 2019, the county saw occupancy at 76.4% said Lisa Verbeck, Chief Marketing Officer, Visit SLO CAL. 

For the month of June, the Five Cities is showing the strongest numbers of any region in the county, with the lowest decline in occupancy rates.

Five Cities lodging facilities reported an occupancy rate of 63.5%, representing a drop of 17.5% from June 2019.

Pismo Beach is pulling in the biggest numbers of visitors for any county city, filling more than 66 percent of their rooms for the month.

"We've been very fortunate for our location. To have the beach here has been very, very helpful for us," said Kristin Stayart, Hilton Garden Inn Director of Sales. "We are doing better than I think anyone would have expected back in April, May."

Stayart added the Pismo Beach hotel is seeing a majority of visitors cominig from the Central Valley, as well as from the Los Angeles region and Bay Area.

"We're a drive market, and that is in our favor right now," said Stayart. "Having the temperatures that we're having right now, and it being our normal peak season, I think people are flooding to the beach, where it is cooler and they can get a little bit of a normal summer."

She added that booking patterns have dramatically shifted since the pandemic started more than four months ago.

"People are booking a lot more last minute," said Stayart. "They're not staying as long, but people are coming out. People just trying take a break and feel a little bit normal."

While Pismo Beach and the Five Cities are experiencing the best numbers in the area, at the other end is North County.

COVID-19 is a causing significant decrease to the number of people visiting the popular destination.

"It's been tough," said Stacie Jacob, Travel Paso Executive Director. "When you tell wineries to shut down, restaurants to shut down, no more concerts, no more event, we're feeling it."

Numbers show both Paso Robles and Atascadero are both getting hit hard.

Both cities are below 45% occupany rate, representing a 46% drop for Atascadero from June 2019, and a 44% decline for Paso Robles.

"There are less people coming to town," said Jacob. :Less people dining in our restaurants. It also means less tax dollars being generated that goes into the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT), that helps pay for fire, roads, and police in our area."

As the city adjusts to the downturn, Jacob said Paso Robles is positioning itself to push forward in the coming weeks and months.

"Wineries, as well as outdoor dining, we believe are going to be some of the core assets that will take us through, and hopefully, we do continue to see that rebound," said Jacob. "We know that we are that drive market and that opportunity for people to come and do that weekend leisurely trip here."

On Friday, the City of Paso Robles, as well as Travel Paso and the Main Street Organization, rolled out a new on-street dining program.

"What you are seeing is on street dining," said Jacob. "It's a modified parket program, that's allowing restaurants their tables outside. I think you're going to see a lot of innovation and creativity over the next few days. "

The first phase of the plan can now be seen in the area of 11th and 12th Streets and Pine Street.

"Over the next few weeks, you're going to see the whole downtown community really be transformed, with a really beautiful, modified on street dining program," said Jacob.

As for the rest of the county, San Luis Obispo County as a whole had an occupancy rate in June of 54%, representing a 29 percent drop from the same time last year.

The North Coast pulled in a rate of 57%, indicating a drop of 24% from June 2019.

Cambria trailed only Pismo Beach with the best numbers of any county community with a rate of 64%, a decline of just 19%.

The average daily room rate in the county fell $10, dropping from $179 in June 2019 to $169.

As the summer season carries on, those in the travel business are optimistic numbers will improve.

“While we are still significantly down, we are seeing an upward trend reflecting the state’s allowance of leisure travel," said Verbeck. "Our lodging investors are taking great care to follow procedures and provide a safe experience for guests, including wearing face coverings and practicing social distancing.”

Jacob also stressed Paso Robles businesses are being extremely mindful of the pandemic, as they look ahead to the future.

"I think there is some optimism," said Jacob. "We are going into fall, which are some of our highest months as well, so we're really encouraging those people that are ready to get out and take that safe road trip here to Paso Robles, we're here and ready for you. We're going to give you the safest option that you can find."

In Pismo Beach, businesses are hoping to build on what has been a promising summer following a rough spring.

"I do think things will progressively get better, of course, with this being our peak season, it's going to be interesting to see how we perform, as we move into the end of summer, and early fall, where we normally see the occupancy drop off," said Stayart. "It will be interesting to see if that happens or it maintains somewhere near normal."

Article Topic Follows: Lifestyle

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Dave Alley

Dave Alley is a reporter and anchor at News Channel 3-12. To learn more about Dave, click here.


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