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Santa Clarita counts on tourism for funds

Visitors report a positive experience

Posted: February 27, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: February 27, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Riders of the Amgen Tour of California take off from the starting line at the Westfield Valencia Town Center Mall as they start the final leg of a previous Amgen bike race in Valencia.

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Last year was a busy one for the city of Santa Clarita and its tourism partners, according to a city official.
Through November 2012, the Transient Occupancy Tax – or TOT – was up 8 percent over 2011, said Russell Sypowicz, spokesman with the city’s Economic Development division.

The room tax translated roughly to an additional $25 million generated from local hotel-room sales, Sypowicz said. And the tax on occupied hotel rooms produced 10 percent – or nearly $2.5 million – in tax revenue for Santa Clarita’s general fund.

And while part of that revenue can be attributed to the city’s many tourism events, much of it also can be attributed to business travelers, as well, he said.

Last year, there was a 2.7 percent increase in hotel occupancy, and a 3.1 percent increase in the Average Daily Rate.

Helping to fuel those increases is the city’s tourism marketing effort, which is funded in part by the city’s hotels, said Jason Crawford, economic and marketing manager for the city of Santa Clarita.

“We have a Tourism Marketing District,” Crawford said. “Five of the city’s hotels have an extra assessment on their bills. They pay 2 percent into this fund, and we use it to attract more events, sporting events and conferences.”

Hotel rooms translate to money spent at the hotels, local restaurants and retailers, which is good for the local economy, experts say. And the city also focuses on attracting events to the city to produce similar results.

Calculating effect
Amgen is one of the city’s premier tourism events, booking over 750 rooms just for participants and staff. Smaller events often occupy about 150 rooms, Sypowicz said.

In the past, however, the city didn’t itemize the economic impact on the local economy for the smaller events, but it’s estimated each brought in approximately $150,000 to local businesses and the city.

This year, the city is taking a different approach.

As part of the city’s agreement to help market events that come into town, it is requiring online surveys and information gathering to assess how much the smaller events impact the city economically, he said. Without the specifics, the city estimates smaller events bring in approximately $150,000 per event.

Santa Clarita tested the survey process when it recently hosted the California Association of Enterprise Zones annual conference in November.

The city’s tourism office helped coordinate that statewide conference, and the event resulted in 253 room nights at local hotels, Sypowicz said. Attendees at the conference estimated their dining, shopping and hotel expenses while in town, and the city estimated that the event had a direct economic impact of $147,000.

“Another question on the survey was, ‘Would you recommend Santa Clarita as a place to hold a future conference?’ and 98 percent said ‘yes,’” he said.

The city shared this information with the consultants, who are studying whether a conference center is economically feasible in the city, for inclusion in a final report.

“We hosted this one successfully at the Hyatt,” Sypowicz said. “But there have been events in the past that we didn’t have space to host. We need to expand our capabilities to host other conferences.”

While waiting for larger-site facilities to exist, the city focused on attracting tourists to the area through a comprehensive multimedia campaign between February and May 2012 that included television, radio, online, print and outdoor media.

Drawing tourists
Based on data from hotel guests and anecdotal information from Six Flags Magic Mountain visitors, Phoenix and San Diego have been identified as top feeder markets for Santa Clarita travelers, Sypowicz said.

As a result, the majority of the advertising campaign was focused in those two markets, with the aim of increasing awareness of Santa Clarita as a leisure destination for both of them.

The city also found success in the online sweepstakes promotions it offered in each area, he said. Radio listeners entered to win a getaway to Santa Clarita, inclusive of hotel accommodations, dining, golf, spa and family fun activities. More than 500 people entered to win prizes from these markets, Sypowicz said.

“There were five winners in each of those markets,” Sypowicz said. “We got great feedback from them; the winners enjoyed their experience here.”

Officials said the city also is planning another advertising campaign in both Phoenix and San Diego, this time focusing more on radio and online media, based on mediums it felt produced the best results.

The most successful aspect of the campaign was its ability to drive visitors to the city’s newly redesigned tourism website, as traffic from these markets grew by 200 percent during the campaign, he said.

But one successful campaign doesn’t necessarily translate into increased tourism activity.

“It doesn’t mean we need to stop advertising,” Sypowicz said. “We know that really it’s about being top-of-mind.”

The city has also placed a high value on sports and cultural tourism, introducing many new events last year, he said. Many of the inaugural events from last year are returning because of their success.

Those first-time events included the California SuperStates Chess Championships, Masters Cross Country Invitational, UCLA Cross Country Invitational, Pac-12 Cross Country Championship, Los Angeles Volleyball Academy Foothill Invitational, Triple Crown Softball spring tournament and the USSSA Baseball tournament.
In addition to last year’s events, the city is looking forward to hosting the Amgen Tour of California and USA Swimming Open Water National Championships in May, plus the Southern California Community College Cross Country Championships in November, Sypowicz said.

The events bring money to local businesses in the city that translates to increased sales and occupancy taxes for the city, which in turn benefits the residents through local services, he said.



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