Wellness Check

Pam Sheppard of Horizon Inn and Ocean View Lodge is among the hospitality pros excited to boost mid-week visits and longer stays.

Nic Coury

In two weeks, the tranquility of Carmel’s white sand beach and shady forest will be broken when thousands of visitors descend on the area for the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am golf tournament. Hotels and inns are already booked with visitors pouring in for the event. But come late February and early March, peace in the village will reign again. That might be nice for residents, but it’s a problem for innkeepers managing cash flow. The independent marketing organization Visit Carmel is turning the problem on its head by using that peace and quiet to fill some of the empty rooms.

Last fall, Visit Carmel launched a new marketing campaign called Mindful-by-the-Sea, advertising the city as a destination spot for meditation and mindfulness. In addition, the organization – financed by fees paid by Carmel’s hotels and inns through a hospitality improvement district – also launched the idea of Carmel as a fitness destination, catering to fitness enthusiasts from cold or snowy climates who want to continue training in the Central Coast’s mild weather.

Both marketing strategies fall under the “wellness trend” in the tourism industry, says Jeff Burghardt of Burghardt+Doré Advertising, which developed the campaigns for Visit Carmel. “Mindfulness is clearly a trend, and that’s showing up above and beyond just travel,” he says. Market researchers with IBIS World estimate that the “alternative care” market is $16 billion in the U.S., and the meditation industry makes up more than $1 billion of that pie.

Amy Herzog, executive director of Visit Carmel, calls the new marketing strategies “forward-thinking and a natural fit for Carmel,” especially in staking the city’s claim as a mindfulness destination. “We can differentiate ourselves from other destinations we might be competing with,” she says.

Mindfulness and fitness fit in with the branding refresh Visit Carmel underwent last year. The new “Visit Carmel-by-the-Sea” logo includes the tag line, “Pure inspiration.” A YouTube video features young people running on the beach, surfing and walking through Carmel’s charming courtyards.

In addition to videos and full-page ads in Runner’s World and Mindful magazine, Burghardt+Doré created two full-color brochures handed out exclusively to Carmel hotel guests, “Locals Guide to Scenic Runs Hikes & Walks In & Around Carmel-by-the Sea” and “Beginner’s Guide to Mindful-by-the-Sea.” The runs, hikes and walks brochure has been popular with guests, Herzog says. It features nine walks in Carmel, Big Sur, Pacific Grove, Monterey and Carmel Valley. The mindfulness brochure – with a woman meditating on a rock along Carmel Beach on the front, with Point Lobos as a backdrop – was created in partnership with Mindful. It instructs readers on meditation basics, and provides a map of eight spots in and around Carmel where people can unplug and relax.

But calling themselves “Mindful-by-the-Sea” wasn’t enough. “We wanted credibility behind the claim,” says Herzog. So they enlisted two nationally known experts to lead retreats during off-peak periods. For fitness and nutrition, they reached out to Jeff Galloway, known as “America’s coach,” who’s written numerous books on running since 1973 and leads retreats in Lake Tahoe and Florida. For meditation, they brought in Rich Fernandez, CEO of Google’s nonprofit Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, and founder of Wisdom Labs, a science-based mindfulness training nonprofit.

The retreats launched in November. Galloway repeated the fitness retreat in December and January, and has two more coming up in March and April. Fernandez, who leads the retreats at the Sunset Center, taught in early January and has one more slated for March 7-9. (The fitness retreat runs $579 for two days of instruction, runs, walks and sessions on nutrition and related topics. The meditation option is $395 for over a day and a half, and includes a box lunch.)

Hotelier Pam Sheppard, whose family has owned the Horizon Inn and Ocean View Lodge since 1978, was so taken with the idea of promoting mindfulness, she and her staff created meditation bonfires at Carmel Beach Wednesday evenings in November. She partnered with Monterey Bay Meditation Studio in Pacific Grove to bring in teachers to lead sessions, capped off with a round of s’mores and sunset. “We got a really great response,” she says. “People from all walks of life participated.” She plans on repeating the bonfires in April.

Burghardt believes such outreach will bring more midweek visitors who stay for multiple nights. He also hopes the effort draws people inclined to slow down and appreciate Carmel’s tranquility.

“Fitness and mindfulness bring a great type of people who are positive and really here to appreciate Carmel, not blaze through in a day,” he says. “That’s the kind of visitor that is a real plus.”

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