Despite the downturn in the oil sector that has battered Kern County’s economy, the local travel industry continues to show strength.
In Bakersfield, hotels have seen an uptick in visitors compared with the previous year. According to STR Inc., the number of hotel rooms sold in Bakersfield was up 1.4 percent for the 12-month period between May 1, 2016, and April 30, 2017. In addition, Bakersfield hotel revenue was up 4.2 percent during that same 12-month period. Increased hotel revenue means more tax revenue flowing to local governments.
Some Bakersfield hotels have recently completed major renovations, signaling investor confidence in the local travel market. One of those is the former Downtowner Inn, now rebranded as the Vagabond Inn-Executive at 1301 Chester Ave. Prior to the redesign process, the property was up-to-code but uninspiring. Jag Patel, the current owner of the property, purchased it with a vision in mind.
“I wanted to attract a clientele that goes underserved in downtown Bakersfield: people who expect very high quality from affordable hotels,” Patel explained. “Our guests deserve to stay somewhere with visual appeal, and they shouldn’t have to sacrifice comfort.”
Renovations saw the existing flooring in guest rooms replaced by hardwood. Rooms also sport new beds (including new memory foam mattresses), desks, chairs and wardrobes. Guests will enjoy 48-inch flat-screen LCD TVs and mini-refrigerators and can request kitchenette rooms. The Vagabond Inn-Executive serves free continental breakfast each morning and provides guests with free high-speed Wi-Fi.
The boom in the local travel market is not just being seen in Bakersfield, but throughout Kern County. According to a report prepared for Visit California and the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, visitors to Kern County spent $1.214 billion in 2016. That spending included everything from visits to Bakersfield’s Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace, gatherings at Rabobank Convention Center, regional softball tournaments at Mesa Marin Sports Complex, and races at Auto Club Famoso Raceway and Kern County Raceway, to skydiving, rock climbing, kayaking, river rafting, off-roading and rock climbing in all parts of the county. That spending, up slightly from 2015 (.25 percent), also generates tax revenue to local governments, welcome news amid reports of declines in sales tax and property tax receipts.
The report, prepared by Dean Runyan Associates Inc., found about 28 percent of direct visitor spending in Kern County was for food service, with an additional 18 percent spent on accommodations (see graphic). Food service spending from visitors increased almost 4 percent over 2015, with spending on accommodations up about 3 percent.
In 2016, visitor spending in Kern generated $420 million in earnings for local industries, up more than 8 percent over the year before. More than 60 percent of those earnings, or 3 out of every 5 dollars, were generated in the accommodations and food service industries, which saw a 9 percent increase in earnings from travel spending over 2015. Businesses in the arts, entertainment and recreation fields garnered more than 18 percent of total earnings from travel spending in Kern in 2016, up almost 7 percent from the year before.
Visitor spending also directly supports Kern County employment. In 2016, visitor spending supported 15,320 jobs, up 1 percent from 2015. The majority of those jobs — almost 58 percent — were in accommodations and food service, with an additional 25 percent of those jobs in arts, entertainment and recreation.
The report also found that visitors to Kern County who stayed in hotels and motels spent $372 million in 2016. That amount was 30.64 percent of destination spending, more than other groups of visitors.
David Lyman, Ph.D., is manager of Visit Bakersfield. He and other members of Team More to Explore help visitors from throughout the world spend their money in California’s ninth largest city. They are available toll-free 866-425-7353 or at Info@VisitBakersfield.com.