A joint session of the Solvang City Council and the Tourism Advisory Committee ended with some answers and still many questions about the path forward for the Danish-themed city’s future marketing and event planning endeavors.
Meeting days before Memorial Day weekend’s start of the summer traveling season, members of both panels discussed methods for luring tourists — a key revenue source for the small city’s coffers — and planning events to attract visitors amid turmoil.
“The problem that I see … is that we have our tourist season on us now,” Mayor Mark Infanti said, questioning whether the city had time to solicit new proposals. “We need to get started now, and then we need to figure out a long-term goal.”
Members faced multiple specific questions to answer during the broad discussion.
“In my mind, the marketing plan could be so simple, but it’s got to be super defined and very clear to everyone, anyone, what we’re getting from that contract,” Councilwoman Elizabeth Orona said.
Until 2019, the Solvang Conference & Visitors Bureau, a nonprofit organization largely funded by the city, handled the tourism marketing and planned many events. However, a different council defunded and disbanded the group.
The city hired out-of-town marking firms, but most recently terminated Reno-based contractor The Abbi Agency months into the two-year contract.
Since the SCVB’s demise, Solvang has employed a piecemeal effort, including $300,000 toward the marketing firm, $150,000 to another company to operate the Solvang Visitors Center, roughly $100,000 in salary and benefits for a marketing and event coordinator, and $100,000 for Julefest.
After parting ways with The Abbi Agency and the resignation of the marketing and events coordinator after just six months on the job, Solvang’s leaders decided to reassess efforts.
TAC vice chair Alex Grenier said he had two big issues with The Abbi Agency, citing the lack of local presence and insufficient data.
“There’s definitely a disconnect working with them in not having boots on the ground,” Grenier said. “They did a trip out here, it was expensive and they were only here for a few days, and that meant we were being charged a lot for very little local presence.”
The SCVB, which had nine to 12 employees, had received $800,000 annually and organized Julefest, a Christmas celebration that lasted for more than a month, and others.
Two key events had been handled by different organizers, with the Fourth of July by Rotarians and Danish Days by a nonprofit group.
“We need someone to do events is what we really need,” said Tracy Beard, a TAC member and executive director of the Solvang Chamber of Commerce. “That is what our business community needs.”
She said events like Taste of Solvang, Grape Stomp and others should be brought back.
Elizabeth Orona said the city needs data analytics to help avoid overspending its marketing money.
“We can be surgical about what is being impactful and driving people into the city,” she added.
Members agreed that one of the big flaws remains a stale Solvang USA website that may or may not be fully functional, but has several pages with out-of-date information.
TAC members will review the RFP for the website upgrade, keeping the committee alive at least into June. Council members declined to fill a vacancy on the TAC, leaving the panel with six members.
Both panels also directed City Manager Randy Murphy to proceed with hiring the marketing and events manager since the city paused the process after receiving approximately 30 applicants.
Later, during the regular City Council meeting, the five members voted to approve extending contracts with Stiletto Marketing for public relations and advertising for $38,600 and Islett Agency for social media up to $35,000.
Both agreements began in April and will now end Dec. 31, instead of June 30.
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