County a hot spot for travelers

Whether it’s to drink locally brewed beer or play golf on courses with sweeping views of ocean cliffs, more and more tourists are making San Mateo County a destination to eat, shop and be merry.

Occupancy and average hotel rates in the county have been rising steadily this year, according to the San Mateo County Convention and Visitors Bureau. From January through March, local hotels experienced a 4 percent rise in customers compared with the same time last year, said the bureau’s CEO Anne LeClair.

The surge in tourism is a small bright spot for the county’s slumping economy. Several sagging job sectors — such as financial services, trade, transportation and utilities — have led to the highest unemployment rate in the county since 2005, according to the California Employment Development Department. Currently, 4.2 percent of workers in the county are unemployed. Jobs in the leisure and hospitality fields, however, continue to grow.

Visitors spend more than $2 billion per year in San Mateo County, LeClair said. Combined with San Francisco, where tourism contributes $8.2 billion to the economy, hospitality is the largest private-sector industry in the two counties combined, according to a U.S. Census Bureau county economic statistics report.

LeClair attributed the spike in tourists in the county to the growing number of international travelers coming to the Bay Area due to the weak U.S. dollar and the nosediving national economy.

“The weak dollar is certainly a factor that is making travel to the U.S. more competitive and more attractive than it was just a few years ago,” said Sean Randolph, president of the Bay Area Council Economic Institute.

LeClair said that many business and leisure travelers choose to stay in San Mateo County hotels because they are close to San Francisco, but are about $60 a night cheaper. Although San Francisco is always on their agenda, the tourists also spend time and money in nearby restaurants and malls in the county.

“People might do a tour in San Francisco, but then they’ll be back and will be dining locally and shopping locally,” LeClair said.

Local businesses said tourists flock to the county because of its sunny weather and small-town feel.

“Any time it gets sunny, there are a ton of tourists,” said Ryan Murray, manager of Half Moon Bay Brewing Company. “People are starting to realize that the coastside has such a nice small town atmosphere of 20 years ago and they are starting to get intrigued by that.”

But, he said, serving the local beer also helps because tourists always look for unique things they can’t get at home.

svasilyuk@sfexaminer.com

By the numbers

Tourism in San Mateo County is on the rise, thanks in part to a weak dollar.

4 percent: Rise in hotel occupancy rates in Jan-March 2008 compared with Jan.-March 2007

7 percent: Rise in average hotel daily rate in Jan-March 2008 compared with Jan.-March 2007

$2 billion: Revenue generated by tourism to county economy

$22.5 million: Hotel tax generated in from 2007-08

$281: Amount a tourist spends per day in county

30 percent: Share of a restaurant’s business from tourists

<strong>774,878: International travelers at SFO in March 2008

6.2 percent: Rise in international travelers at SFO from March 2007 to March 2008

Source: SFO, San Mateo County Convention and Visitors Bureau

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