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Tax proposal aims at countywide tourist enticements 

It could be a new local marketing campaign: Come to SLO County, home to more than all those nice little cities you may have heard of.

In the latest version of a long-running attempt to market the entire county of SLO instead of just its cities to tourists, some local hotel owners want to place an additional 2 percent fee on room rates. That money would go into a countywide pool—about $1 million per year—to be spent on marketing the county to tourists.

It’s not a new or uncommon idea. In fact, all seven cities in the county already have their own individual programs. On the other hand, the same cities rejected a countywide program.

Supporters of the countywide marketing effort say the county should be marketed as a whole because local hotel owners are not really in competition with themselves. The real competition, they say, is with Monterey and Santa Barbara counties, or any other area around the state that trumps SLO County’s tourism promotions.

“Clearly in unincorporated areas of the county they don’t have their own promotions committee,” said Steve Burns of the county Visitors and Conference Bureau, which is spearheading the latest effort.

Others, such as Michael Kidd, a hotel owner in Avila Beach, believe unincorporated areas are simply the places that got left behind when a countywide program failed.

“Everybody who could opt out has opted out,” Kidd said.

Over the past few years the bureau has tried to get cities on board with a countywide program. Kidd, who was one of the bureau founders, said SLO, Paso Robles, and Pismo Beach first decided to go their own way and were soon followed by other cities.

The latest program would charge hotel owners in unincorporated areas but the marketing effort would focus on every area of the county. Some have said it’s a fairness issue; others argue that any increase in tourism benefits everyone in the county.

There’s no decision yet. Hotel owners have until early April to submit protests before SLO County supervisors make a decision.

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