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Local tourism group hopes consumers discover city of Claremont

As officials across the region are seeing red in their city budgets, a local organization of hospitality professionals is continuing to employ new marketing plans in order to keep Claremont in the black.

Claremont’s Tourism Business Improvement District (BID), a coalition of Claremont hotel and motel managers, is marching forward with its latest plan to attract consumers to Claremont. “Discover Claremont Weekends,” a new program offered jointly by BID and Metrolink, offers a package deal with round-trip tickets to Claremont and a room reservation at any of the 5 Claremont hotels through December 31. Nearly 3 years since the district was approved, BID continues its mission of leveraging marketing dollars to promote Claremont tourism.

“It’s still a work in progress, but [the BID] has provided an arena for businesses, hotels and the city to really promote itself,” said Andrew Behnke, co-founder of the Tourism BID and general manager of Claremont’s Doubletree Hotel. “With the elimination of the redevelopment agency, money the city once had to help promote itself has now dried up. On the periphery, the [BID] is a way to help continue to promote Claremont.”

Since its formation, the Tourism BID has introduced a series of new programs under its marketing plan “Discover Claremont” in an effort to market the local community to the masses. The BID hopes its push for tourism will give an extra boost to the local economy. So far, the strategy has arguably proven effective. Since the Tourism BID started in 2010, the city has seen an increase of nearly $200,000 generated from room occupancy taxes.

“There has been a significant increase,” said Finance Director Adam Pirrie, though it is unclear whether that is a result of the BID or a rebound in the economy. “You can probably make a claim for both, but revenues have definitely increased since BID.”

With its latest incentive programs like Discover Claremont Weekends, the BID hopes to build upon its current track record, according to Ron Antonette, a Discover Claremont spokesperson.

“This is a real opportunity for us to make an impact,” Mr. Antonette said. “Our Discover Claremont packages, where we are providing [hotel and motel] guests with an opportunity to shop and dine and stay in town, is a real opportunity for us to promote and draw interest to other areas of our city.”

The Claremont Tourism BID was established in October 2009 with the goal of promoting the city’s economic development. With the uncertainty of the economic climate, business professionals in the city felt it was necessary to establish a marketing plan to ensure Claremont’s financial future. Other California cities have implemented similar programs—for instance, Newport Beach (2009), Temecula (2005) and Carlsbad (2005)—and Claremont followed suit.

“With sales tax declining, especially in the auto arena, it provides a way to make up for that,” Mr. Behnke said, adding that the revenue generated from occupancy tax has a much more direct impact than sales, going directly to the city.

Former Councilmember Peter Yao moved for BID’s approval with unanimous support from his fellow councilmembers.

“There was an interest in obtaining some funding for regional advertising for Claremont at the time, and the Chamber and hotels came together to support this effort,” said Councilmember Corey Calaycay who, as city mayor at the time of the decision, added his support to the BID.

With the district’s establishment, in addition to the 10 percent occupancy tax, a 2 percent charge was added to each rented hotel room. Though there was initial fear that the tax would dissuade people from staying in Claremont, the numbers seem to tell a different story.

“There was some fear that people wouldn’t want to pay the 2 percent and would look outside the city [for hotels], but that doesn’t appear to be a factor based on hotel occupancy,” Mr. Pirrie said.

For fiscal year 2009-2010, the city’s hotel occupancy tax brought in $784,380, according to Mr. Pirrie. The following fiscal year, the revenue rose to $917,377. By 2011-2012, it had risen to a little over $1 million.

Money raised through the 2 percent tax is given back to BID on a quarterly basis to continue marketing efforts, which include printing costs, television and online advertising. Whereas some are not completely sold on changing the small-town feel that is Claremont, Mr. Antonette believes it is helping Claremont weather the turbulent economic climate.

“We have more than 80 restaurants and pubs, dozens of which are locally-owned and can really benefit from an increase in foot traffic and people bringing their dollars to Claremont,” Mr. Antonette said. “Having [the BID] here to support them is a good thing.”

With occupancy rates going upward, BID’s plans move forward. In addition to Metrolink incentives, BID continues to plug gift certificate incentives—every hotel room in Claremont comes with the bonus of $100 in gift certificates to use at Claremont businesses.

“We’ve had our best summer ever,” Mr. Behnke said of business at his hotel, which he believes to be a result of the Discover Claremont marketing, both in print and online. “I’m sure there is a correlation. [The BID] is working.”

For more on the city’s Discover Claremont campaign, visit www.discoverclaremont.com.

—Beth Hartnett

news@claremont-courier.com

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