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Fairing well

By   /   Monday, August 3rd, 2009  /   Comments Off on Fairing well

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There is no recession in Paso Robles this week.

Or next week, for that matter. As it turns out, a little summer fun is just what the city needed.

California Mid-State Fair ticket sales exploded this year, thanks to special promotions, new outreach efforts and the popularity of the staycation. Now Santa Barbara’s Fiesta and the Ventura County Fair will step up and try their luck.

“It was a difficult year to put together an event of this magnitude,” said Kathryn McKee, vice president of external relations at Old Spanish Days, the nonprofit that organizes Fiesta. “In this economy we expect to get more staycationers – people who pass up expensive out-of-town trips in favor of cheaper ways to have fun.”

It’s hard to tell whether that concept will save the fair industry this year, but if the Mid-State Fair is any indication, the Tri-Counties will land on its feet.

As part of a special promotion for May, Mid-State Fair patrons could purchase season tickets on a buy-one-get-one-free basis. More than 2,000 season passes were issued that month – twice what was sold in all of 2008.

“In these tough economic times, we wanted to give the public a great value,” said Vivian Robertson, chief executive officer of the Mid-State Fair. “It’s obvious by the number of season passes sold that the public appreciated the opportunity, and we’re very grateful. Our county fair has always been a place for kids and families to come together, and we’re very excited about this summer.”

Big events can translate to big revenue for struggling host cities, filling up local hotels, restaurants and shops. McKee said Santa Barbara’s hotel bookings have tumbled a few percentage points this year, but thinks Fiesta will put heads on pillows – “in a good way.”

“The hotels in the area are usually full by this time of year,” she said. “This is our chance to show the impact we can have on the community. We draw people who stay in Santa Barbara hotels and eat at Santa Barbara restaurants … We are a nonprofit that uses Fiesta to support other nonprofits and I think that’s unique.”

McKee said Old Spanish Days raises about $200,000 every year, but that’s all part of Fiesta’s operating budget. Despite being administered by the Department of Food and Agriculture’s Division of Fairs and Expositions, fairs don’t receive tax money, said Scott Grieve of the Earl Warren Showgrounds, which is hosting a portion of Fiesta.

“We’re self-sustaining within the state’s structure, so it’s not like we’re relying on taxpayers’ money to get things up and running,” Grieve said. “Like any other business, we make our own operating budget by doing things like fairs and expositions in addition to renting out the space.”

Grieve said fair executives across the Tri-Counties are re-examining budget allocations and income sources, which include percentages from vendors, event planners who rent the showgrounds and the companies that supply carnival rides.

Despite the sluggish economy, none of the festivals seem to have slashed their advertising budgets.
Ventura County Fair publicist James Lockwood said this year’s marketing strategy was much like last year’s, in which the Internet, radio and TV advertising, fliers and direct mail were used in advertise the event.

If Ventura County Fair officials want to expand their strategy, they could always follow the lead of the California Mid-State Fair – the first fair in the nation to have its own iPhone application, which gives users up-to-date news on concerts, maps, contact information and ticket pricing for events.

“The app turned out great … just fabulous,” Robertson said. “We are very pleased to be on the cutting edge of technology and staying in touch with our fans. This gives iPhone users another way to connect with us.”

The application comes in addition to the telephone, e-mail, text messaging, Twitter and Facebook services officials have set up to distribute information and answer fairgoers’ questions in realtime.

Officials hope the easy access to information will help bring people through the gates. Last year, there were almost 370,000 visitors to the Mid-State Fair, which was an increase of almost 1 percent. The Ventura County Fair attendance total was up 3.7 percent in 2008, setting an attendance record for the second year in a row. McKee said Fiesta typically draws 100,000 people per day.

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