A ‘banner year’ for Humboldt tourism

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT – The director of the county’s tourism promotion agency has reported that last year was “a banner year,” with bed tax collection increasing by 11.6 percent.

The Board of Supervisors fielded an annual report from the Humboldt Convention and Visitors Bureau at its Jan. 20 meeting. Bureau Director Tony Smithers said Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) revenue, which is culled from fees added to nightly hotel room rates, rose significantly in the last fiscal year, which ended in June.

Arcata’s TOT collection rose by $200,000, to $1.2 million. Countywide, the increase amounted to $535,430, bringing the total up to $5.6 million.

The trend has continued into the first three months of the current fiscal year, said Smithers, with countywide TOT collection rising by 10.8 percent.

The TOT revenue goes to city and county governments and a portion of it funds the bureau’s tourism marketing work. Smithers said the bureau’s website, its presence at trade shows and its coordination of print and online media reporting have helped raise the county’s profile among potential visitors.

This year, the bureau “bit the bullet” and pledged financial support for an effort that could make Humboldt more accessible to travelers – raising money for a revenue guarantee to help recruit a new airline to the county’s main airport.

Smithers said the bureau has committed to coordinating $500,000 in contributions over the next two years, with half of it coming out of its own budget. This year, the bureau’s $100,000 contingency fund is “in the pot,” he continued, and another $25,000 will be extracted from its operating budget.

Travel to trade shows and conferences has been cut and “of course next year, when we don’t have that contingency reserve, we’ll have to do some real belt-tightening,” Smithers said.

He added, “We’ll come back and get your input on what we should and shouldn’t be doing.”

Aside from redwoods, one of the county’s most widely-known attributes is marijuana. When Supervisor Rex Bohn asked whether marijuana-related tourism will be promoted, Smithers initially joked about it.

“Do you want to take a tour on the canni-bus?” he asked.

He said marijuana tourism is actually in a discussion phase among the bureau’s board members but, “we do not have our marching orders to explore this particular market yet.”

Smithers acknowledged that there’s a lot of speculation on Humboldt becoming the “next Napa Valley” for marijuana and “there are people out there who have business plans written and they’re getting into this business whether you or the bureau like it or not.”

If marijuana becomes more of a tourist attraction, it will be considered for marketing, Smithers said. “My issue has always been we’re a family destination and how do we play those two things off against one another,” he continued. “We’ve have to be very careful with it.”

Also at the meeting, supervisors unanimously approved a resolution that offers the state a portion of the gravel lot next to the county courthouse in Eureka for construction of new courtrooms.

The resolution notes that there is a shortage of courtroom space. Whether or not the state is open to the offer won’t be known until sometime next year, when the state enters a new budget cycle.


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