‘Shoulder season’ and conferences targeted as tourism opportunities

CARLSBAD — Tourists flock to Carlsbad in the summer producing an average hotel occupancy rate of 80 percent from June to August, according to the Strategic Advisory Group, a city-hired hospitality consultant group.

Daniel Fenton and Bethanie Parker from the Strategic Advisory Group, shared the results of their nine month survey at a City Council meeting Tuesday.

They recommended the city begin focusing on the “shoulder season,” the months between September and March to increase tourism and revenue generated from the transient occupancy tax.

“The research demonstrated that really where we’re going to move the needle when it comes to incremental visitors and where we’re going to make an impact going forward is on specifically marketing to shoulder periods,” said Fenton.

The consultants received input from 75 stakeholders, including people from the city, the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce, Legoland California and hotels throughout the region.

Fenton said not many short-term vacation rental owners took part in the surveys even though he reached out to some.

Short-term vacation rentals are allowed in residential zones as long as the homeowner has the proper permits.

One of the recommendations Fenton gave to draw more visitors during the shoulder season is by using targeted marketing techniques to increase “group sales,” or large groups of people that come at once, such as conferences or sales retreats.

According to the report, Visit Carlsbad focuses 90 percent of the marketing resources towards increasing awareness of individual leisure travel market.

Carlsbad has more than 287,000 square feet of meeting space and the consultants met with different industry clusters in the area to find out how to enhance meeting space.

Fenton said that if the targeted marketing works well enough to attract more groups, the day might come to discuss the possibility of a convention center.

“Could there be a day where the group effort could be substantial enough that it would warrant having our own space?” asked Fenton.

He said efforts should be targeted to businesses throughout southern California.

Along with more targeted marketing, Fenton also recommended creating a Carlsbad experience.

Tourists largely associate Carlsbad with Legoland California and the beaches, which Fenton said, needs to change.

“We proposed an approach to rethink some of the experiences and the way we market it,” Fenton said.

He said the city needs to increase awareness of other resources, including the lagoons, transportation, beach camping and shopping to enhance visitors’ experiences.

“The key is how do we put that all together in kind of a singular experience for visitors,” Fenton said.

Economic Development Manager Christina Vincent talked about the possibility of shuttles in Carlsbad Village to help ease traffic and to create a convenient way to get around.

Another recommendation from Fenton was to streamline the tourism governing bodies.

Currently there is Visit Carlsbad, which is made up of leaders from hotels, Legoland California and Carlsbad Premium Outlets.

There is also the Carlsbad Tourism Business Improvement District Board, which is made up of a cross section of hotel officials appointed by Mayor Matt Hall.

Vincent said sometimes different representatives represent the same entities on each board, which isn’t efficient.

“Let’s streamline that… so that so we’re not duplicating efforts,” said Vincent.

Finally, Fenton suggested changing the way tourism is measured. Instead of tracking website traffic to the Visit Carlsbad website, he said it’s important to measure marketing success by focusing on the amount of actual rooms being booked and packages being bought.

Councilmembers were thankful for the report and discussed their thoughts.

“Are we willing to feed the goose that’s going to lay the golden eggs for us?” Councilman Mark Packard asked.

He then said yes.

Mayor Matt Hall said he doesn’t support an increase in transient occupancy tax in the short term because he wants room rates to remain competitively priced.

He closed with saying it’s time for the city to step up more to help increase tourism because the hotels and attractions have done their part.

“There should be some partnership or some investment back from the city into this because I think the other side has really proven themselves,” said Hall.

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