As California’s former state tourism director, a career tourism professional and because I have a personal interest in Humboldt County’s success (our family has owned a homestead in Alderpoint for nearly 100 years), I was alarmed to learn that the city of Eureka is considering ending its relationship with the Eureka-Humboldt Visitors Bureau team and focus instead on Eureka-centric promotion.

Ending Eureka-Humboldt’s statewide, national and international visibility would have devastating impact on tourism, Eureka’s economy and tourism-generated tax receipts.

Some years back, the city of Oxnard similarly ended its support to its visitors bureau, choosing instead to divert funds to local needs. Within two years, hotel tax revenues plummeted, city services suffered, and its city council was replaced.

Pismo Beach experienced related losses after they reduced support to their visitors bureau, as well. As state tourism director, I used to think of Pismo Beach as California’s “squeaky wheel.” Hardly a month passed that I wasn’t called by them and reminded not to overlook Pismo Beach in our promotional efforts, but when its city council stopped funding the local bureau, Pismo Beach stopped squeaking and other destinations became louder.

There’s an old saying, “Promoting a destination is like flying an airplane. Once you get the plane in the air, you don’t turn off the engines.” Suddenly changing how or to the extent Eureka and Humboldt County are marketed will sever long-built relationships with travel planners, tour operators, travel and outdoor writers and editors, meeting and events planners, and so on. Once that occurs, another old saying takes effect, as experienced by Pismo Beach … “Out of sight, out of mind.”

Meetings, international tourism, editorial content and travel plans are arranged from a year to two years in advance. That means, should Eureka break away from Humboldt County, travel and tourism will continue for a while, then fall away quickly as previously established relationships erode.

Colorado learned this after it eliminated its state tourism office, years back. At first, tourism remained level there, but then competitive destinations began to go after travel segments that weren’t defended by Colorado. California did this by picking off U.K., South American and Oceanic ski and snowboard markets undefended by Colorado. Today, it’s common to hear British, Spanish, Portuguese and Australian accents at Lake Tahoe and Mammoth Lakes midweek in winter.

During Colorado’s absence from travel marketing, California established relationships with international airlines, tour operators, media and meeting planners, convincing these travel influencers to combine winter sports with visits to California’s sunny destinations.

Though Colorado later restarted statewide tourism marketing, it lost market share to California that it never recovered. The same is likely to occur in Eureka and Humboldt County if promoting outside the county stops or is fractured.

I’ve seen how fragile tourism is to Humboldt County. At one time, visiting the redwoods was a staple California vacation. Today, Eureka and Humboldt County compete with innumerable highly advertised attractions much further away, because of the perception it takes longer to drive to the redwoods than fly to those places and/or that the experience will be better there.

To compete, Eureka and Humboldt County must sell the entire redwood coast experience, not just Eureka or Humboldt County absent Eureka. Neither Eureka nor the rest of Humboldt County are large enough to succeed in today’s highly competitive travel promotion market by diminishing their voice through dividing the message.

When I first became state tourism director, Disneyland believed it was so well known that it didn’t need to be associated with other state destinations, but they with them. That year, I attended the World Travel Market in London. There, our California booth, in a remote corner of the trade show, was lined deep with tour operators and travel planners while the much larger Disney booth elsewhere on the main floor was nearly empty. Why? Because the British travel influencers at WTM were there to develop “California” trips.

Because Disneyland didn’t participate in the California booth, it excluded itself from being considered when planning “California” trips. Disney recognized this and later corrected its error, becoming one of our greatest supporters and participants. However, should Eureka separate itself from Humboldt County, the North Coast and “California’s Redwood Coast,” it will lose visibility and tourism.

So, I urge the city of Eureka to reconsider changing the course of tourism development so well established and cultivated by the late Tony Smithers and the Eureka-Humboldt Visitors Bureau and continue to support the promotion of Eureka and Humboldt County as a unified destination.

John Poimiroo is an active travel and outdoors writer who was previously elected State Tourism Director of the Year by the US Travel Industry and inducted into the California Tourism Hall of Fame and California Outdoors Hall of Fame.

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