Amid many popular Central Coast destinations sits the town of Solvang, nestled between two mountain ranges in the Santa Ynez Valley and nicknamed “California’s Denmark” because of its strong Danish heritage.
The downtown consists of about five to six blocks of primarily one or two-story buildings that were designed similar to traditional Danish structures.
“Our footprint is limited, and we’ll never go taller than a windmill,” said Tracy Farhad, executive director of the Solvang Conference & Visitors Bureau.
The city of 5,909 people relies heavily on tourism revenue, which generates 53 percent of the city’s general fund from the 12 percent hotel transient occupancy tax paid.
“When a visitor stays in a hotel, buys products and services and pays local wages — that tourism ‘multiplier effect’ trickles down into all segments of our local economy,” Farhad said in a written statement to the Business Times.
Solvang’s tourism industry provides more than 1,000 jobs, and an average 1.5 million annual visitors spend about $190 a day in the city, according to Farhad.
She said Solvang households would pay about $1,450 more annually in taxes without the steady tourism revenue, which helps the city provide street and road maintenance and safety and community services.
“Frankly, tourism is the only industry where consumers arrive, spend their money, then leave — making limited environmental impacts yet providing positive economic benefits,” Farhad said.
For this fiscal year, the visitors bureau was given a $30,000 grant on top of its usual $775,000 annual allocation from the city to promote the tourism economy.
The new grant is intended to help the visitors’ bureau encourage and promote television and film production in the area. The funding comes after Solvang was used as a filming location for two episodes of the Lifetime network reality show “Little Women: LA” in March.
The show aired in June with episodes titled “Welcome to Solvang” and “Sideways in Solvang,” that featured activities at Solvang locations, including Elna’s Dress Shop, Solvang Restaurant, Solvang Shoe Store, Birkholm’s Bakery and Wheel Fun Surrey bike rides.
TV and media attention have boosted web traffic and tourism interest in the town, said Farhad and Laura Kath, the visitors bureau’s media relations director. The exposure not only puts Solvang on the map, but also leads to economic benefits as cast and crew members book accommodations and eat and shop in the area.
“California’s Denmark” also garnered media production attention last September for the show “How to Make Everything,” when its TV crew spent a day making wine with employees at Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards. The video went live last December and has more than 166,200 views, Kath said.
Both of these production opportunities came to Solvang unsolicited, Farhad said. But the visitors bureau was ready to accommodate them, something that “doesn’t just happen” without enough funds and personnel to fulfill the request.
“The Bachelorette,” a reality TV show, also wanted to come film, but the visitor’s bureau didn’t have the funds to accommodate it, she said. The new grant will ensure the bureau is able to handle bigger productions as well as market to TV producers.
Amid Solvang’s five Danish bakeries, 24 wine tasting spots, 18 hotels and six museums, tourists from across the world milled about the streets during the afternoon of Oct. 22.
Two tourists from China were seated at a small sidewalk table and said they were visiting California for the first time on a cross-country tour that began in New York.
“The buildings look European. It’s very beautiful and very quiet. I like it,” said tourist Secelly Zhang XiaoWei, who was traveling with her husband on a tour bus. She explained that the small-town feel and open air was more pleasant than Manhattan’s skyscrapers, and the colorful buildings and variety of plants stood out to her.
In addition to weekend sight-seers, the visitors bureau hopes to market the area as a destination for weekday events, conferences and business meetings.
Solvang’s downtown is very walkable, which makes it a prime candidate for those types of visitors, Kath and Farhad said.
Of the funds designated to the visitors’ bureau, 30 percent go toward administration and 70 percent toward marketing activities, including advertising, public relations, sales outreach and events and trade shows.
“We may be a small town, but I like to consider us a larger destination,” Farhad said.
• Contact Annabelle Blair at [email protected]