By Cornelia de Bruin
Triplicate staff writer
Crescent City's hotel occupancy numbers show near-flat growth for the past six years.
About 56.5 percent of Del Norte County motel rooms were occupied from January through November 2006, Hendersonville, Tenn.-based Smith Travel Research reported.
That compares to 52.4 percent of rooms being full in the same period during 2000.
Filling hotel rooms means more revenue for hotel owners and other businesses such as gas stations, restaurants and retailers that rely on the tourism trade. Higher occupancy also means more dollars for the county and city to spend on services.
A national leader in collecting tourism-related information, Smith Travel Research's numbers showed tepid growth in Del Norte County since 2000.
They dipped to 49.4 percent for all of 2001, paralleling national travel trends following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Occupancy rose to 52 percent for all of 2002 but stayed flat for 2003. It then rose to 53.9 percent for all of 2004 and then to 54.9 percent for all of 2005.
Local residents who supported passage of the city's requested 2 percent Transit Occupancy Tax said off the record that the lack of a marketing effort contributed to the lackluster statistics.
Money from a bed tax has benefited both Humboldt and Curry counties' hotel occupancy numbers, officials there said.
"We are funded by the bed tax, the county and the cities of Eureka, Fortuna and Arcata in our marketing effort," said Tony Smithers, executive director of the Humboldt County Convention and Visitors Bureau. "It's a 30-year effort ... it brings us nearly 80 percent of our funding."
Smithers added that his bureau also receives funding from membership dues and ad revenue.
The City of Brookings in neighboring Curry County gives another contrast. Occupancy rates there have grown by about a 30 percent.
Brookings-Harbor Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Les Cohen likens lodging growth numbers compiled since the early 1990s to a "steady increase, with some bumps."
"It amounts to a steady increase over decades," said Cohen. "It's about 25 percent over the early 90s to now."
Opponents of the bed tax increase said off the record that local marketing efforts were lackluster before anyone requested the last transit occupancy tax hike, which would have increased the tax from 10 percent to 12 percent of room rental monies.
Unfilled hotel rooms ultimately limit city and county services. The two governments in part depend upon transit occupancy tax revenue to support their budget.
Crescent City's transit occupancy tax revenue has grown from $516,312 to $820,714.04 from 1999-2000 to 2005-06.
Del Norte County's revenues grew from $176,671.36 to $232,625.48 during the same time period.
Some of the money from transit occupancy tax increases that voters defeated in November would have gone to county and city coffers.
"The voters spoke, (and) we did not have their commitment," said Crescent City City Manager Eli Naffah.
In an effort to increase local tourism, Del Norte County welcomed its first Visitors Bureau, created in September.
Since its inception, the group lost its director. At press time, a new director was close to being named and the visitor's bureau board had chosen the Motivo firm of San Mateo to develop a marketing campaign.
"They will develop a unique brand ID and help boost our overall image to increase tourism and overnight visitors' stays," said Michele Thomas, vice chair of the Visitors Bureau board.
Motivo will use money budgeted for this year by the visitors bureau board to accomplish its goals.
Motels contacted to verify their records of lodging tax payments during the same period did not return calls placed for their comment.
The percentage of rented Del Norte County hotel rooms:
*NOTE: January through November totals; as December is offseason, year total numbers usually are lower than theJan.-Nov. percentage.
SOURCE: Smith Travel Research
Hotel occupancy: Percentage of rooms that people stayed in during the year. If the rate was 50 percent, half of the rooms were not sold.
Transit Occupancy Tax: A tax that each person staying in a hotel room pays, either to the city or the county.
Bed tax: A common name for the Transit Occupancy Tax.