Aquarium tourists

The Monterey Bay Aquarium hosts approximately 1.8 million visitors every year, according to statistics on its website, making it one of the county's biggest tourist attractions.

Like it or not, the natural wonders of Monterey County continue to be big draws for tourists from around the world.

Last year visitors brought $2.98 billion in economic benefit to the county, a 5.8 percent increase over 2017 and the eighth year of consecutive growth, according to the latest report commissioned by the Monterey County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The industry supported approximately 25,000 jobs in 2018 and generated $135 million in local tax revenue, an increase of 8 percent over the previous year, according to the report by Dean Runyan Associates. Tourism continues to be the number one industry on the Monterey Peninsula. It remains second to agriculture countywide.

It’s still a sore subject for some locals. The Carmel Residents Association routinely calls for the city of Carmel to stop contributing to the MCCVB to pay for tourism marketing efforts. This despite the fact that the city pulled in $22 million in state and local taxes on tourism spending, according to the report—nearly the city’s entire budget.

Last year Big Sur residents urged people to take the Big Sur Pledge as a way of educating visitors about their impacts to the sensitive area. More recently the Instagram account bigsurhatesyou launched, later renamed to the more friendly bigsureducatesyou.

The MCCVB’s press release about the report reflects the organization’s sensitivity to the complaints, making a case for how and why marketing the county’s attractions is still necessary.

“Tourism is an essential aspect of Monterey County’s economy, but we have to grow it responsibly,” President and CEO Tammy Blount-Canavan said in the release. “We have a managed growth strategy that seeks to grow visitation in the off-season. Equally important is targeting the right traveler who will spend more.”

MCCVB officials also argued that Monterey County spends much less per visitor than other direct competitors in the California tourism space, like Napa and Sonoma. They pointed to another report by Tourism Economics, showing that for every $1 of MCCVB spending, other locations are collectively spending $36.

“Our competition is very tough and very aggressive,” said Rob O’Keefe, MCCVB chief marketing officer in the release. “Travelers have many choices and our competitors are spending a lot to attract them.”

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Pam Marino joined the Monterey County Weekly in November 2016. She covers the communities of Carmel, Pacific Grove, Del Rey Oaks, Pebble Beach and North County. She also covers tourism, health, housing and homelessness, business and agriculture.

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