MORRO BAY — The Morro Bay Tourism Department and the Tourism Business Improvement District once again hired tourism expert and marketing consultant Carl Ribaudo to come and assess the impact and awareness of the Morro Bay brand and to make recommendations for marketing strategies.
Ribaudo had come in 2013 when the TBID operated with a tourism bureau independent of the city. He has more than 20 years experience in the travel and tourism industries focusing on marketing analysis and competitive strategy development to develop effective solutions for his clients. He leads his firm, Strategic Marketing Group in South Lake Tahoe.
After completing his marketing analysis and speaking at length with a cross-section of residents and visitors, Ribaudo presented his “Story of Morro Bay” on Jan. 3 at the Vet’s Hall to the city and attendees.
Ribaudo commented that Morro Bay is only limited by the mindset of its people. He spoke about the uniqueness of the town in that it has its own niche in the county. And that niche in his opinion is nature, particularly the estuary, harbor
He went on to say that visitor spending is static for San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara, but slightly better in Monterey. Each of these towns has their own personality but none truly have the diverse nature that is in Morro Bay.
He commented that with $161 million in tourist revenue in the area, Morro Bay is in the revenue game. As to special events, Ribaudo remarked that having the Amgen bicycle tour come to town is a huge asset and a good strategy.
Ribaudo felt that signage on Highway 1 is not good; there is not enough to point people to the off ramps to come into town. Getting more signage would mean the city has to work with Caltrans for approval for more definitive and visual signage.
Ribaudo felt that there were “stories” here that were not being told. He mentioned the eclectic feel of the destination and advised emphasizing more on its culture. He said Morro Bay is a market leader in outdoor recreation and that simply promoting recreation won’t work to attract more visitors. “Instead of ads,” he said, “do storytelling. Let people know who you are, Stories come from residents.”
Ribaudo had spent time talking to residents to find out what is important to them. Concerns about the increase in vacation rentals were mentioned. He commented that in the Lake Tahoe area they were voted out but that the process involved with this vote, “tore the town up.” He cautioned the city to be careful.
Several times Ribaudo came back to commenting on the estuary and its importance to tourism. He suggested educating visitors about it which would mean better collaboration between the city and the Morro Bay National Estuary Program.
He also felt that promotional stories should contain what residents are doing; the things they volunteer for and the organizations with which they volunteer. He said that this would get across a solid picture of the culture of the town.
Ribaudo advised putting stories on the tourism website, a site that is being revamped and to develop stories around the values of this community. “Tell the story of who you are,” he said, “and these stories come from the residents answering why we do recreation and arts and service. The website is the most prominent piece to influence people to come here.”
He went on to say that the TBID and tourism department needs to communicate with the locals on tourism and related activities; to make them partners. “Get the community to engage,” he said, not just the city staff and vendors. He also said to be up front and let the community know that you understand summer tourism is a problem for residents and perhaps more education for visitors to consider visiting at times other than summer.
Ribaudo said there is a value to the tourist dollars for residents as they flow into the TOT and there is flexibility for the city to use the money in ways other than tourism.
At the conclusion of his presentation, many people came forth with comments, questions, and suggestions. All in all, the meeting brought forth that Morro Bay is a different kind of place and one of a kind on the Central Coast.