California’s Central Coast – threaded by the iconic Pacific Coast Highway – is made up of six counties: Ventura, Santa Barbara, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, San Benito and Santa Cruz. Epic oceanside views and the dramatic coastline of Big Sur, stellar wineries and cool galleries all find their home in the region, as does the University of California, with campuses at both Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz. This is “Hollywood’s Backyard”, coastal hotspots stretching from LA to San Fran. We spoke to Cheryl Bagby, VP Sales & Marketing for Visit Ventura, as well as the VP of the Central Coast Tourism Council, about how the region was coping with coronavirus, and what plans are in the area moving forwards.
Chatting with Cheryl Bagby
Q: Have there been any positive news stories or great innovations coming from California during the time of Covid-19?
A: What’s been amazing to see is that lockdown has inspired a stronger sense of community. Visit Ventura set up a Ventura Wall where people can post positive, mood-lifting content and its been humbling to see how much people are going out of their way to help those in their local community. We’ve encouraged people to share these using #StayVenturaStrong, and made our own Gratitude video that you can see here.
High Surf at the Walton Lighthouse in Santa Cruz, California © Edmund Lowe Photography/Shutterstock
Q: What has your organization done to adapt?
A: Like many organizations, the rhetoric has had to be about inspiring people to travel later. With over ninety percent of Ventura businesses being locally owned and run, we have been working hard to support the businesses that have been able to remain open, with Takeout Tuesdays showcasing the best takeout offers, and Thirsty Thursdays livestreaming tastings from our breweries and wineries. We have also become an information hub for vital news updates – such as beach closures – and the latest social-distancing measures. And of course it’s been really important to keep a sense of humour, whilst respecting the soberness of the situation, which is a delicate balance.
Q: What have been the pleasures and challenges of engaging travellers virtually?
A: Of course the biggest challenge working in the travel industry is not to promote travel! But we have aimed to still provide inspiration and keep people engaged. Doing live feeds from our museums and tasting series, we’ve been encouraging comments and it’s been great to see “Hellos from Italy” and all over the world. I know many of my Central Coast Tourism Council counterparts have also embraced virtual travel, such as the SloCal “Be Here” campaign, live webcams on the See Monterey website, and Santa Cruz livestreaming everything from comedy nights to live music using the tag #untilwecruzagain.
View over Santa Barbara from the pier © S.Borisov/Shutterstock
Q: What differences do you imagine travellers will see when they start to return?
A: We are already seeing a huge focus on sanitation processes – this is being talked about everywhere at the moment! We are seeing brands coming out with customer commitments related to cleaning procedures, touchless transactions, and protective equipment like gloves and masks for those working on the frontline of hospitality.
Q: California is well placed for the new normal of social distancing! What top experiences would you recommend for escaping the crowds?
A: California is filled with open spaces; we have beaches that run the entire length of the state, National Parks such as the Channel Islands National Park and Pinnacles, endless miles of bike trails and hiking, and stunning botanical gardens. Plus we have great weather pretty much year round which means that California will always been an outdoors trip. And of course for those that want to experience life on the water, we can offer water sports, diving, surfing and fishing – all of which you can be enjoyed in a responsible way in the new norms of social distancing.
Q: How do you think California will weather the storm compared to other US destinations?
A: California is one of the most well-travelled and popular states for both domestic and international travel; whilst anchored by some of the major US cities, most of the state is an outdoor playground, which is definitely a strength.
A wine vineyard near Santa Barbara, California © David M. Schrader/Shutterstock
Q: Who do you think will be the first markets to start travelling?
A: Of course domestic travel, and there is a lot of talk in the industry saying drive markets will be the first to come back as people rebuild confidence in air travel.
Q: What is the first think you will do when lockdown is over?
A: Just getting back to the simple pleasures – I’ll look forward to going to a bar, having a cold pint, and talking to people face to face. I think we’ve all missed that in lockdown!
Top image: Bixby Creek Bridge seen along Highway One in Big Sur, California © Beketoff/Shutterstock