California has marked over two years since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
As pandemic restrictions eased in San Luis Obispo County and across California, including a lifting of the mask mandate in June 2021, local tourism numbers jumped up. Tourism in the spring and summer of 2021 began to outperform many pre-pandemic metrics.
Cathy Cartier, the Chief Marketing Officer for Visit SLO CAL, said San Luis Obispo County drew visitors from the north and the south.
“We did well during the pandemic, surprisingly, because people from our drive markets of L.A. and San Francisco really wanted to get out of the city,” Cartier said. “And so they came to SLO Cal and they rented AirBnB’s, and they rented vacation rentals, and they stayed in our hotels.”
Visit SLO CAL, a San Luis Obispo nonprofit travel company that offers tourist information across the county, divides the county into different regions.
During the pandemic, Cartier says north San Luis Obispo County, including Atascadero, Templeton and Paso Robles, took a larger hit than did south San Luis Obispo County, including Pismo Beach, Grover Beach and Oceano.
“Because [in] North County, the wine tasting rooms [were] closed and [there were] limitations on what they could do there, [so] they suffered a little a little more during that time,” said Cartier.
However, tourism metrics in north San Luis Obispo County have been making a comeback in recent months. Cartier says North County and the North Coast, which stretches from Los Osos to San Simeon, are seeing more tourism than when Hearst Castle was open before the pandemic.
High tourism during the pandemic has set San Luis Obispo County apart from many other areas of California, Cartier said.
“We outperformed our occupancy and visitation throughout the pandemic because people wanted to come here,” Cartier said, “with the exception of when we were shut down.”
Visit SLO CAL says they are looking to see how the reopening of Hearst Castle next month, on May 11th, continues to affect hotel occupancy numbers as more people continue to visit.
In San Luis Obispo County, hotel occupancy rates in March 2021 and March 2022 were similar. Both hovered around 65%.