Bakersfield’s hotel tax revenues are on track to reach their highest level ever, according to the city’s finance department. That is just one of several recent positive indicators about the local travel and tourism sector.
The hotel tax is officially known at the transient occupancy tax, or TOT. To show how much TOT has increased in Bakersfield over recent years, in fiscal year 2005-06, this 12 percent surcharge on Bakersfield hotel rates generated $7.4 million. For the current fiscal year, that number is estimated to be $9.8 million, a 31.4 percent increase over the 2005-06 level.
But TOT revenues only reflect people staying in hotels. They do not show nonlodging spending by visitors or those visitors staying in RV parks, campgrounds or vacation homes.
Visit Bakersfield facilitates a number of groups and events that bring visitors to Bakersfield. The impact of those events can provide a glimpse into the larger effect that travel and tourism has throughout our economy.
For example, the estimated economic impact of groups and events facilitated by Visit Bakersfield this year, to be realized in this or future years, is $23.9 million. In addition, those events are expected to attract 89,100 delegates.
Those positive indicators are not just restricted to Bakersfield. According to data released in May, visitor spending in 2017 was up throughout Kern County. That rise in spending also helped spur increases in local industry earnings, employment and tax revenues.
According to a report prepared for Visit California and the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, visitors to Kern County spent $1.338 billion in 2017, an increase of almost six percent from 2016.
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 20 percent spent on local transportation and gas, and 18 percent spent on accommodations (see graphic). Those three categories accounted for two-thirds of visitor spending.
That visitor spending also directly supports Kern County employment. In 2017, visitor spending supported 16,900 jobs, up more than eight percent from 2016. The majority of those jobs — 60 percent — were in accommodations and food service, with an additional 25 percent in arts, entertainment and recreation.
Helping to drive these increases in spending are large groups and events that chose Bakersfield. The city’s largest convention, the Jehovah’s Witnesses Watchtower Convention, will be returning to Rabobank Arena for another six weekends this summer beginning June 22. On average, each weekend convention attracts about 6,000 delegates.
The following month, the National Onion Association will hold its summer convention July 18-21 at the Marriott at the Convention Center. This is the first time this organization has held a convention in Bakersfield.
Early next year, CIF wrestling returns to Rabobank Arena with several exciting changes. The event will combine both boys and girls wrestling. While Bakersfield has hosted the boys championships since 2004, the girls wrestling had previously been held in Visalia.
Combining both boys and girls wrestling means the event will expand from two days to three. That extra day will have more visitors buying more hotel rooms and spending more money in Bakersfield restaurants.
The CIF wrestling event will also be held one week earlier, moving from the first weekend in March to the last weekend in February. That is welcome news because CIF and March Meet at Auto Club Famoso Raceway will no longer be competing for limited hotel rooms on the same weekend. With those two large events being held on separate weekends, each will have room to grow.
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.