Already a world class tourist destination, the Tri-Counties are poised to ramp up business travel capacity with new spaces for corporate events and conferences.
Camarillo and Paso Robles are each slated for large new conference centers that will cater to business functions. This is in addition to more than half a dozen hotels cropping up in the region with smaller-scale boardrooms and event spaces of their own.
Although demand exists for business travel, the segment is underdeveloped in San Luis Obispo County, said Travel Paso Executive Director Danna Stroud.
“Having facilities to accommodate meetings and conferences helps us reach that balance,” she said.
The Paso Robles Event Center, the city of Paso Robles and Travel Paso, along with other potential stakeholders, are planning to construct a $26 million conference center on Spring and Riverside streets in Paso Robles.
The new conference center would add a potential 19,500 square feet of meeting space at the Paso Robles Event Center, which is located on property operated by the California Mid-State Fair. It will include a 15,000-square-foot ballroom with banquet space to seat 1,000 people, six meeting rooms and a board room.
Business travelers spark hotel bookings during weekdays and off-seasons, Stroud said. She added that a visitor from Los Angeles or the Silicon Valley might come for business, discover the beauty of SLO County and return as a leisure visitor.
“That’s a benefit of getting business travelers — because of that conversion to leisure traveler,” she said.
In Camarillo, the Mian Plaza and Conference Center is set to break ground this month on a parcel across from the Camarillo Premium Outlets along Ventura Boulevard. It would add a 17,500-square-foot conference center capable of seating up to 750 people.
The total 14-acre project includes two hotels, a 158-room Embassy Suites and a 122-room Home2 Suites by Hilton. It will also have four spaces with around 26,500 square feet total for retailers and restaurants and on-site parking for more than 650 vehicles.
“As it stands now, Camarillo does not have a conference center of this size and typically will lose overflow to neighboring cities,” Camarillo Hotel and Tourism Association Executive Director Yuliana Gonzalez said in an email to the Business Times.
The conference center will bridge local demand for meeting space and attract business from regional markets, she said. She highlighted Camarillo’s tech companies and central location along Highway 101, which aids the flow of business travel. It will also allow the tourism association to market the city to companies hosting larger annual retreats and trade show conferences, said a spokesman for the organization.
Nationally, business travel is on the upswing, according to 2017 data from the U.S. Travel Association. Although leisure travel still dominates the industry, business travel accounted for about 18 percent of all domestic travel, according to its 2017 report. Spending during travel was also up.
“If we have the opportunity to attract and host out-of-town conferences, that will give us a competitive edge,” Gonzalez said. “Adding two quality hotels such as Home2 Suites and Embassy Suites will give visitors more options during their stay and help meet the demand that is predicted to increase in the next few years.”
In SLO County, the Embassy Suites Hotel in the city of San Luis Obispo offers the largest ballroom at 5,100 square feet. The Alex Madonna Expo Center in the city of SLO has a total of 20,000 square feet available for meetings, and the Paso Robles Event Center has 75,000 square feet of meeting space.
But a conference center feasibility report produced by Visit SLO Cal in 2017 showed a countywide demand for an indoor conference center of between 21,000 and 27,000 square feet with a ballroom of at least 15,000 square feet and around 10 smaller rooms.
“If the right kind of facility is available, there is a tremendous demand for that,” said Michael Bradley, CEO of the California Mid-State Fair. He said the existing space at the Paso event center is popular for expos and conferences for meeting planners both nationally and statewide.
Tax receipts from business travelers totaled $19.4 million in 2017, according to Visit SLO Cal data. That’s up 52.6 percent since the year 2000.
“Those kind of events are on a growth curve, and we’re seeing that our region is very attractive,” Bradley said of hosting business events.
He added that “everything is coming in very well for a destination focus for Paso Robles,” highlighting the nearby San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport, which recently added a direct daily flight to Dallas in addition to Denver. He also gave a nod to a number of hotels coming into the area, including within the cities of SLO, Paso Robles and Pismo Beach.
The demand is driven in part by tech companies and specialty event planners or promoters looking for trade show, banquet and large meeting spaces with rooms for smaller break-out events, he said. The city’s reputation in the wine industry is also a plus.
The new conference center is anticipated to create demand for an additional 11,500 room nights annually in Paso Robles, a 3.1 percent increase, according to a 2018 study on the conference center’s feasibility and economic impact.
It’s also estimated to generate $9 million annually in revenue for the local economy via overnight visitors, a separate study by stakeholders found.
• Contact Annabelle Blair at [email protected]