10 MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY august 31-september 6, 2023 www.montereycountyweekly.com news After winter storms created washouts on Arroyo Seco Road this past March, the road was closed indefinitely to the general public, effectively cutting off access to one of the most beloved recreational areas in the county—the Arroyo Seco River and campground in the Los Padres National Forest. All summer, locals looking for a good swimming hole and a rock to lie on in the sun have had to look elsewhere. But there is now good news to report: On Friday, Sept. 1, the county will be receiving bids for two separate projects along the road. The plan, says Enrique Saavedra, the county’s chief of public works, is that repairs will be completed by the end of the year. Combined, the two projects are estimated to cost $5 million to complete, with an additional $500,000 spent on planning and another $500,000 to oversee the construction. The expense for the project is expected to be covered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but earlier this year the state gave the county about a $20 million advance (with the expectation that FEMA will reimburse the state) so that cash would flow and work could get started. One of the projects on the road, Saavedra says, involves drilling 22 concrete pipes, 30 inches in diameter, under the pavement—a “stitch pile.” The bigger issue, perhaps, which is outside of the county’s jurisdiction because it’s on private land, is a hillside next to the road that, after being saturated by weeks of ongoing rain, started to shift. Saavedra says the state’s Office of Emergency Services is actively monitoring the site, but that for now, it’s holding tight enough. Mending A Gateway Storms damaged Arroyo Seco Road in March. The County now has a plan to fix it. By David Schmalz In 2013, the Monterey County Convention and Visitors Bureau encouraged potential visitors to “Grab Life by the Moments.” That message continued for 10 years while visitor numbers ticked upward—until Covid-19 struck in March 2020. Grabbing life by the moments took on new meaning for people hungry to leave isolation behind after travel restrictions were lifted, yet wasn’t enough to bring back visitors to pre-pandemic levels. It was time for a major brand overhaul, bureau leaders agreed last year. “Find Your Way Here” is the new tagline, developed after a year of research that included 1,200 consumer surveys and focus group testing in other parts of the U.S., says CEO Rob O’Keefe. “It’s an emotional appeal,” he says. People are “looking for authentic natural connectivity, they’re looking for inspiration,” he says. The connection they seek is to nature, family and themselves. “Especially coming out of Covid, that connectivity is more important than ever,” O’Keefe says. The bureau’s name is changing to See Monterey, in part to clear up confusion between MCCVB and other local agencies with similar acronyms, O’Keefe says. (The new name has been the web address for years: seemonterey.com.) O’Keefe was set to unveil the new tagline and marketing campaign, along with the new name, at the bureau’s board of directors annual meeting at the Monterey Conference Center on Thursday, Aug. 31, after the Weekly’s deadline. O’Keefe’s goal remains the same as it’s been since hotel travel resumed: to increase the number of hotel nights that visitors stay in Monterey County, especially those who fly in. One additional night’s stay per visit could reap approximately $877 million a year in financial benefit to the region through tourist spending and increased sales and hotel tax revenues, according to O’Keefe. The goal has remained elusive, as tourism numbers continue to lag behind 2019 levels. Reasons for that lag include a decrease in overall international travel to the U.S., as well as travelers from the U.S. heading overseas. “We’re losing the race when it comes to domestic visitors,” O’Keefe says. Additionally, visitors stayed away during and after this winter’s weather. “The storms were a pretty big punch in the stomach,” O’Keefe says. Carmel, which was hit particularly hard, reported hotel occupancy for fiscal year 2022-2023 was down by over 10 percent compared to 20212022. It was 20-percent lower during the storm period, January through April 2023, compared to the same period in 2022. Monterey is seeing some gains in occupancy, says City Manager Hans Uslar. That is especially true downtown, where it was up by 13 percent in fiscal year 2022-2023 over the year prior, “indicative of the rebounding conference center business,” Uslar says. Conferences and group travel are areas See Monterey is targeting, since group travelers spend up to 158-percent more than leisure travelers. It’s too early to know exact occupancy numbers during Car Week, but O’Keefe expects room revenue to be up over 2022. Uslar reports that Monterey’s hotel occupancy was 94.4 percent for Friday, Aug. 18, at an average daily rate of $774 per room. The estimate for Monterey’s hotel tax revenue in August is around $5 million, roughly equivalent to last year’s revenue for the same time period. A week before the Labor Day holiday weekend, visitors enjoy a sunny visit to Monterey’s Fisherman’s Wharf. Their spending translates into valuable revenue. New Again The county’s tourism bureau updates itself to boost lagging business after Covid shutdowns. By Pam Marino Rainfall in March caused Arroyo Seco Road near Greenfield to wash out and become unstable. It has been closed to the public since, cutting off access to a popular recreation area. “We’re losing the race.” Daniel Dreifuss courtesy of Monterey County