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Morro Bay Bed Tax Receipts Down For March

May Show Effect of Highway 1 Closure

June 21,2107

Screen Shot 2017-05-25 at 6.06.20 AMWe may now have a first glimpse of the impact of the closure of Highway 1 on the local economy.For months now San Luis Obispo’s beach towns from San Simeon to Cambria, Cayucos to Morro Bay have been cut off from travelers who might otherwise head south, down the  famous Big Sur coast from the Bay Area and Monterey. The sudden closure came after a February storm helped collapse a key bridge in the community of Big Sur.

Not surprisingly, the closure has slowed visitation in many SLO cities according to recently released figures collected by the Morro Bay Tourism Bureau. They compared local bed tax (TOT) receipts in March 2017, when the highway was shut, to March 2016.

The numbers show hotel occupancy in San Simeon dropped from 58% in March 2016 to 50% this March. Cambria dropped from 72% occupancy to 67%.

It could be worse and may yet, says Cambria Chamber Executive Director Mary Ann Carson. ”Local hotels tell us we are down about 12% from where we should be” she estimates.”People can still drive 20 miles up the coast to see what Big Sur looks like” she figures. But the news from of the recent Mud Creek slide means it will now be a long time, easily over year, before travel up and down this stretch of the coast is possible.

Detailed stats from Morro Bay show total motel receipts dropping from $1.83 million in March 2016 to $1.73 million in March 2017.

What is clear from the city’s TOT trend-line was that before the worst of the rainy winter hit the region in 2017, overnight stays were strongly higher with motel receipts at $4 million in July 2016 compared to $3.5 million in March 2015. The upward trend continued through this past December when receipts were 12% higher.

Of course the weather and road issues have now reversed the trend.

Chair of the Morro Bay Business Improvement District (TBID) Advisory Board  Aaron Graves says this part of California was hurt by the heavy storms early this year and in any case the state was in a small downturn last year. “Demand was up in 2015/16” so the numbers this year may suffer by comparison, he estimates.”I don’t know if we have seen the impact from the road closures”

“Morro Bay has multiple highway options “ to connect to the city, he adds.

”We know the road issue will have some effect, but the question is – how extreme?”

A recent San Jose Mercury News story asks the question if the highway is worth fixing, quoting an estimate of the damage if the road is not opened.

“Every day, the isolated stretch of Big Sur loses $300,000 in revenues, according to Kirk Gafill, manager of the world-famous restaurant Nepenthe. San Luis Obispo and Monterey counties could face a $554 million loss in revenue due to closures, according to a recent study by Visit California, which promotes tourism. The economic impact could ripple out further, if visitors cancel summer plans to the Golden State.”

It’s summertime now and the north-south highway is blocked in two places with the huge Mud Creek slide making it likely travelers won’t by heading south on the iconic road for over a year.

At popular Ragged Point Inn, reservations are down 50% according to a recent NY Times story. The Big Sur coast was hit by torrential rain said to be over 1000% last February. But earlier last summer, a series of terrible fires hurt visitation for much of the busiest travel season, denuding the hillsides and making this year’s slides worse.

North of Cambria, nearby Hearst Castle typically gets 1.6 million visitors annually but will clearly feel an impact as well.

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