Santa Cruz: ‘The dream vacation that everyone can afford to stay a little bit longer”

Santa Cruz Sentinel

Local businesses and tourist organizations are heading into their third year of entertaining the frugal guest this season, offering value-added packages and freebies to draw tourists and their wallets a little closer to spend.

“Santa Cruz County, where you can afford to stay a little bit longer,” is the tagline for a video clip on the Santa Cruz County Conference and Visitors Council website. The clip courts penny-pinching vacationers with the “Top 12 Free Things to do in Santa Cruz County,” touting Capitola’s weekly concerts, several Boardwalk events, free beaches, parks, museums and wetland tours.

“It’s getting little bit better, but people are still going to be watching their pocketbooks,” said Maggie Ivy, head of the visitors council.

The council, she said, is working with businesses to encourage added value packages such as free breakfast with lodging or a fourth night of lodging free.

“A lot of businesses are looking more toward an added value message than just a discount,” she said.

Businesses, though they’re suffering, are still being aggressive in collaborating and taking advantage of community-based marketing opportunities, Ivy said.

To encourage midweek lodgers, Paul Zech, general manager of the Santa Cruz Hotel Group, is offering complimentary use of two bicycles for a half day or a choice of tickets to the Mystery Spot, the Boardwalk or a Roaring Camp Railroad.

“Last year was tough for everybody,” Zech said.

“It was a real struggle to be creative in getting business. You have to be aggressive and make yourself more visible.”

With free admission, concerts and performances, the Boardwalk is well-positioned to draw the thrifty tourist.

“If it stops raining, I think we’ll probably have a pretty nice season,” said Marq Lipton, vice president of marketing for the Boardwalk. “We’re seeing what looks like a slight improvement in the economy.”

Last year, however, that translated to more visitors who spent less, he said.

This summer, in addition to its usual free admission and summer-long schedule of Friday night concerts aimed at baby boomers, the Boardwalk is introducing a new haunted house ride to open in a few weeks and free weekday performances by Circo Brazil, an outdoor show featuring trampoline, tightrope and hand-balancing acrobatics, Capoeira, and freestyle soccer tricks. The company now has $1 night on Mondays and Tuesdays and unlimited rides on Wednesdays and Thursdays for $9.95 and a Pepsi can.

“We realize the public is really looking at pricing,” Lipton said. But, he added, “It’s not business as usual. There’s so much competition for people’s time. It’s not just the dollar, it’s the hour.” The customer experience, especially in these days of Internet reviews, is especially important, he said.

State parks are publicizing summertime special events like Wilder’s Fourth of July, summer campfires, hikes and Junior Ranger programs for children as low-cost outdoor opportunities.

“Many of these parks also have visitor centers and museums, so visitors can get to know about the regions rich natural and historical features, spend quality time outdoors and have a great time without spending a lot of money,” said Jodi Apelt, a state park interpreter.

This article was first published here.


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