Councils vote to stick with visit SLO CAL

The cities of Atascadero and Paso Robles both continued their contracts with the local public relations nonprofit Visit SLO CAL. The advertising firm promotes tourism to the Central Coast utilizing Transient Occupancy Tax funds collected by the cities.

In 2015, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors approved the nonprofit’s Touring Marketing District in a 5-year-plan to collect one percent of all short-term stays in the County. The assessment was added to each city’s Transient Occupancy Tax. The current contract expires in June of 2020. Visit SLO CAL has been making its rounds to individual cities to promote a new plan that extends the agreement for an additional 10 years and raises the assessment to another 5 percent. In total the increase would bring the TMD budget to $60 million.

The company has been instrumental in bringing tourism dollars to the County and expanding flights to and from the San Luis Obispo Regional Airport. The vote passed unanimously through both councils, though there were dissenting opinions brought forth in Paso’s council meeting. The Paso Robles Chamber of Commerce advised against the contract and commercial banker, Bill Enholm, spoke passionately about his disapproval for the contract noting several red flags on the organization’s financial practices.  

“This organization is light, light, light on its financial reporting,” Enholm said. He told the Paso Robles City Council that he would not loan $60 million to a company that did not produce a report that calculates projections and assumptions on how the company is expected to perform known as a pro forma report. 

Enholm also took issue with the proposed Return of Investment. Visit SLO CAL stated that for every $1 acquired by the organization, the County sees a return of $40, making it a 4,000 percent return on its investment.

“I have a very hard time believing that when most people deal in ROI that’s a fraction, 20 percent would be a good ROI,” Enholm said. “It’s a ludicrous study, it’s typical of what you see when someone gets paid by an organization to deliver the good news.” 

In response to Enholm’s objections, Visit SLO CAL President and CEO Chuck Davison said that part of the agreement with the County involved an annual budget audit.

“They approve the auditor and the structure of our audit,” Davison said. He went on to tell the Paso City Council that in the last four years they had audits “with no material weakness.” He also pointed out that the San Luis Obispo County Tax Collector sits on the board as a government appointee.

“Our budget is for public record,” said Davison. “It’s included in our board agenda which are public record under the Brown Act, just like all of yours are. That information is completely detailed.”

Getting through this together, Atascadero