By Neil Farrell

Though the coronavirus pandemic response has throttled down tourism in San Luis Obispo County with its stay-at-home orders, restaurant closures and cancelation of all live entertainment and large gatherings, the industry in San Simeon inked a new contract for tourism marketing.

County Supervisors on Nov. 10 approved a $160,000 contract with Solterra Strategies, Inc. “to continue to provide marketing services to the San Simeon Local Area,” reads a staff report by Tessa Cornejo of the County Administration Office.
San Simeon Area is the local entity under the County Tourism Business Improvement District or CBID.

CBID is funded through a 2% tax on the cost of a room night at all motels, hotels, B&Bs and vacation rentals in the unincorporated areas of SLO County such as San Simeon (Cayucos, Cambria and Los Osos, too).

Half of that money is used collectively by the County CBID Advisory Board to market the unincorporated areas of the county.
The other half is directed back to advisory bodies in each of the towns made up of industry professionals appointed by the County Supervisors.

It is separate from the Tourism Business Improvement Districts or TBIDs operating in the incorporated cities of SLO County — Morro Bay, SLO, Paso Robles, Pismo Beach and others.

Solterra was already under contract with the San Simeon advisory board and its contract extension is for another 15 months. Oddly enough, the contract discussions and approvals have come entirely during the Coronavirus Pandemic response that has included several anti-tourism edicts — namely stay-at-home orders, restaurants closures and the closure of most tourist attractions in SLO County, most notably Hearst Castle, which is San Simeon’s biggest tourist draw.

The SS board voted to recommend the contract be extended back in July and the County’s CBID Advisory Board affirmed that recommendation in August with Supervisors making it official in November.
Solterra’s scope of work calls for a mix of “public relations, social media, email marketing, paid advertising and seasonal promotions.”

As for who’s watching the henhouse or in this case $160,000 of taxpayer money, it isn’t the County.
“As a facilitator of a requested program,” reads Cornejo’s report, “the County has not established performance criteria beyond the legal contractual obligations to expend the funds for identified purposes.

“The onus is on the designated contractors that are selected by a local area advisory board to meet the expectations of the lodging business owners paying the assessment. The San Simeon Local Advisory Board will track the performance of Solterra Strategies Inc. in providing the services outlined in the scope of work.”