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West Ventura County forms tourism district

By   /   Friday, May 20th, 2011  /   Comments Off on West Ventura County forms tourism district

Hoteliers in western Ventura County are the latest to band together to form a Tourism Business Improvement District.

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Hoteliers in western Ventura County looked north and decided they’d better do something to keep up with the neighbors.

They are the latest to band together to form a Tourism Business Improvement District, or TBID, to fund marketing of their area as a tourist destination. Hotels and inns in Oxnard, Ventura and Camarillo will pay an assessment of 1.5 percent of gross room rental revenues to fund the new district.

Over the last three years, tourism business improvement districts have been making their debut in the tri-county region. San Luis Obispo County has five. There are two in Santa Barbara County, and the Conejo Valley is considering whether to set one up. The growing financial pain of cities and counties has played a role in the ascendance of TBIDs, and as they have come on the scene, the need to be competitive with the neighboring tourist destinations has played a part in their spread.

Bill Phelps, president of the Santa Ynez Valley Tourism Business Improvement District, which will be a year old in June, said he applauds what the three cities in Ventura County are doing “because everyone is doing this. If they don’t, Santa Barbara is going to go after their market.”

A vote by the Ventura City Council on May 9 was the final step in a year-long process to form the Oxnard-Ventura-Camarillo district.  It was the hotel owners themselves who got the ball rolling, holding meetings among themselves and hiring a Sacramento-based firm to manage the submission of petitions to form a district. The Oxnard and Camarillo city councils passed resolutions of consent for the Ventura City Council to form the improvement district for the three cities.

The district will be launched on June 1, and a new nonprofit — to be called the Ventura County Lodging Association — will manage the district’s funds and programs. The 1.5 percent assessment is expected to raise $1.5 million in the first year of the district’s operation.

Eric Wallner, a creative economy specialist in the city of Ventura’s Community Development Department, said the area’s hotel owners formed the district to be competitive with other tourist markets and that the west county can tap a vast pool of possible visitors.

“We are an hour’s drive from Los Angeles, a huge market,” Wallner said. “As a community we are working hard to improve our tourism offerings, cultural activities and festivals. There’s something going on almost every weekend in Ventura. We’re pretty upbeat about the potential for growing our tourism market.”

Janet Sederquist, president and CEO of the Oxnard Convention and Visitors Bureau, said that with municipalities facing ever-growing budget constraints, hotel owners eager to promote their destination realized that they were not going to get a greater share of funds from the hotel transient occupancy tax. The self-assessment will generate funds that will be totally dedicated to marketing of the area.

“I think this is a way to increase our participation in the game and find a way to set ourselves apart,” she said. “We tend to have been the drive-through destination, whether it’s Santa Barbara people heading to Los Angeles — or northbound, they’re going through Ventura County and heading to Santa Barbara or beyond. With increased marketing we’re looking to have more awareness for west Ventura County and what we have here.”

Among the attractions that could be highlighted, she said, are the west county’s beaches and the Camarillo Outlets.

Nearly 60 tourist destinations in California have formed Tourism Improvement Districts, according to Jeffrey Lambert, head of the Ventura Community Development Department. In the Tri-Counties, the trend has been recent.

A district to serve Santa Barbara, Goleta, Carpinteria and surrounding unincorporated areas was approved last October and finalized only a few months ago. The districts in San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles are less than three years old, and a TBID for unincorporated San Luis Obispo County is less than a year old, according to Noreen Martin, president of the San Luis Obispo County Visitors and Convention Bureau.

Phelps said he thinks the business improvement district is working very well in the Santa Ynez Valley and there has been no adverse reaction from hotel guests to the fee that is passed on to them. He likes the way the district brings competing hoteliers together to market not only their property, but their destination.

“Instead of looking at guy down the street as your competitor, it’s a realization that his success is contingent on your success,” Phelps said.

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