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There’s a right way and a wrong way to get your message across. A couple of weeks ago the Monterey Peninsula Chamber of Commerce exhibited the wrong way by posting on Twitter: “If you plan on making a statement as a tourist, please don’t visit Monterey County. We want our businesses, schools, and other facilities to stay open.”

Pam Marino here, and I cringed when I read that. I get the sentiment and I know that many of us residents may be anxious after last year’s initial throngs of pandemic weekend visitors who wouldn’t get with the program, and wouldn’t wear masks or social distance. (It’s gotten much better.) Besides pandemic safety protocol violations, there was litter along the beaches and trampling of Big Sur’s fragile environment last summer.

Any gracious host knows there’s a kinder and more effective way to get your point across. You can be inviting and still educate your guests on how to not step all over the flower beds, use too much water and overstay their welcome. 

Rob O’Keefe, president and CEO of the Monterey County Convention and Visitors Bureau, is in the business of being inviting and instructive. And now that we’re embarking on a quasi-post-pandemic period of tourist travel, he’s leading the MCCVB to conduct its biggest ad campaign in the bureau’s history, spending $1.25 million on ads that will run across the country. The theme of the campaign is “Now is the Moment.”

O’Keefe says it's the start of a “pretty big recovery campaign” that will take two to three years in getting the county’s tourism numbers back up to where they were pre-pandemic. 

Recovery is desperately needed. Tourism is the county’s number-two industry after agriculture, and a key economic driver of jobs and revenue for the Monterey Peninsula. Agriculture continued during the pandemic, but lots of tourism stopped due to shelter-in-place. The industry took a massive hit, with tourism revenue down by more than $1.8 billion, a 56-percent loss from the year before. When the shut down first happened last March, an estimated 25,000 hospitality workers were laid off and furloughed. Lots of those jobs are coming back, but many are still not available yet.

The city of Monterey, which depends heavily on both conference business and tourism, is facing a $30-$34 million loss in revenue due to the loss of transient occupancy taxes on hotel stays. Other Peninsula cities also experienced losses and had to make budget cuts.

Peninsula residents might wonder at this point in the story, but what about all the tourists that have been overwhelming the coastline on weekends for the past year? The truth is that most of those visitors are daytrippers—tourists that, research shows, tend to spend less money than overnight travelers, including conference attendees. They’re not staying overnight in hotels, eating out daily in restaurants and shopping in local stores. MCCVB is after bigger fish.

The MCCVB shared an ad with me that will begin running on Monday. It sets out to catch those “high-value” multi-day visitors. It’s a little trippy, and opens with a baby boomer woman sitting at her computer screen in a Zoom meeting with a friend who’s enjoying a glass of wine on the Pebble Beach golf course. He extends a glass of wine to her that magically comes through the screen then draws her in, until she’s sitting with him in real life—emphasizing the idea of getting out of your house into the great outdoors of Monterey County. 

Another scene shows a woman opening her refrigerator then stepping through it onto a sunny day on Cannery Row. (It must have been a funny sight during filming, with a backless shell of a refrigerator on the street.)

My favorite part is a little boy jumping on his bed, who starts falling toward the bed, then suddenly jumps straight off a beach towel on Carmel Beach. A voiceover in the ad says, “We get it. We’ve been home for awhile. Let’s get out. Be inspired. And grab life by the moments.” It’s already posted to YouTube, and you can see the trippiness for yourself.

The campaign’s ads are scheduled to run for the next five weeks in markets within driving distance—like the Bay Area and Los Angeles—direct flight markets—think Dallas, Denver, San Diego—as well as in the Midwest and East Coast. 

Another phase of promotion for fall and winter travel is under development, O’Keefe says. There’s more planned for 2022 and then beyond as foreign travel returns. On a parallel track the MCCVB is working to get conferences back, something expected to pick up by fall.

Here’s to hoping it works and we see people with more time and cash to spend—and good visitor manners—showing up in the months and years to come.

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