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Presentation on tourism leaves Council frustrated

DEL MAR — A March 4 presentation on TBID (Tourism Business Improvement District) left City Council members frustrated, with more questions than answers about a plan designed to attract more visitors to the coastal community.The TBID was formed in September 2010 to fund additional marketing efforts with a goal to increase occupancy in the city’s six hotels.

Visit Del Mar is the nonprofit organization created by the district to manage the assessments. The five people who own or manage the six hotels make up its governing board.

Money comes from a 1 percent fee added to hotel bills that has been collected since October 2010. Most of the funds collected during the first 15 months were used to pay back administrative and legal costs totaling almost $69,000.

Any type of major promotional campaign has yet to be developed, although the district currently has an account balance of about $213,000.

“In theory it makes a lot of sense to invest in the marketing effort to see if we can get the occupancy up,” Councilman Al Corti said. “It’s a lot of money. It needs to be reported specifically as to what we’re spending the money on and what results we’re getting out of it or I think we should try to determine how else the city can spend the money differently.”

Councilman Don Mosier noted that when his colleagues authorized formation of the district for five years, they did so expecting a return on the investment.

“So the investments have been accumulating, but we’re now at the stage where you need to start doing this marketing program,” he said. “And instead of having what we anticipated would be a four-year period to evaluate that, we’re down to a three-year period to evaluate the success of this program. So that’s slightly frustrating.”

The district is required to present an annual report to City Council, which it did in May 2012.

“I’m not comfortable to say that this is the (annual) report,” City Manager Scott Huth said about the recent presentation, which was given by Michelle McCue, managing director of McCue Marketing Communications.

The TBID hired the company in September 2012 to help with the marketing efforts to drive guest traffic and use to all member hotels, merchandize all services of each hotel and promote Del Mar and “its unique village location as a destination,” McCue said.

“The primary objective is to position Del Mar as an intimate coastal destination and really highlight the proximity to the beach,” she added.

To date her company has created a campaign logo and tagline, “Your California Dream.” McCue said the phrase will be used as a platform to sell the city.

It will allow different audiences to perceive Del Mar as their version of what the California dream is, whether they are a family, romance travelers or in town on business, she said.

McCue said her company is currently developing a website that will include a destination video, booking information, maps, a plan-your-trip itinerary to keep as much of the tourism spending in the city as possible and a detail page for each hotel that describes amenities such as dining, activities and meeting spaces.

She said that should be ready to launch by mid-April. Back in May, during the annual report, Mike Slosser, general manager of L’Auberge Del Mar and chairman of Visit Del Mar, said a website would be developed in about three months.

Slosser, who was expected to provide a financial report during the recent presentation, had the flu and did not attend the March 4 meeting.

More than a week later Slosser’s assistant said he was still sick. Slosser didn’t return phone calls or an email asking for an update on the TBID.

The lack of any financial information was what frustrated council members the most.

Admitting the process has been slow, at least one hotel owner urged council members to give the concept a chance.

KC Vafiadis is part owner of inns in Del Mar and Carlsbad, a city she said has a “very, very well run and extremely effective” TBID.

In Del Mar “it’s been a very, very slow evolution in getting it started,” she said, but “I really believe that the TBID is vital to the town.”

Vafiadis said there are about 70 similar districts in the state all bidding to attract the same consumers to their area.

“I can tell you from what we’ve seen in other areas that it definitely works and we need to get our name out there so that we get more visitors here,” she said.

“I, too, am very frustrated,” Mayor Terry Sinnott said, adding that he wants to see a full report of all accomplishments.

“It is just … frustrating that we haven’t accomplished more, especially since we’re collecting the money,” he said. “We should see some results out of that.

“We’re all very, very hopeful that this will really help our hotels. So we’re kind of anxious to get it up and operating. I think we’ve lost a year,” Sinnott said. “I don’t want to keep on repeating losing a year and collecting money. That’s not a good thing.”

“There’s been a lot of money collection and not a lot of projects done,” Mosier said. “I’m hoping that in the next year that’ll change.”