In spite of ongoing, state-mandated business closures and event cancellations in the face of COVID-19, Solvang has continued its tourism marketing efforts under the management of IDK Events in an effort to maintain the interest of potential visitors.
The city’s latest effort, Skål Solvang, seeks to engage fans weekly with virtual and live experiences featuring COVID-safer opportunities.
During Monday’s City Council meeting, IDK President Scott Shuemake and his staff spelled out their recent efforts ranging from online and magazine advertising, e-mail blasts, social media promotions and planning for the upcoming holiday season. The city, IDK and downtown businesses have struggled to provide compelling visitor attractions while operating within the county guidelines.
“Can we have music on Copenhagen? The rules are very specific in the current health guideline that anything that draws a crowd of 10 or more is not allowed,” Shuemake said.
While live musical performances on Copenhagen Drive would be a clear draw, Shuemake said they’ve also been advised that setting out speakers playing recorded music could also violate the county order.
“Now, you can ask the logical question, ‘How is, you know, 100 tourists on the street different than 10 people standing and listening to music.’ I’ll never know the answer. So we’re working closely with the city manager and contacts in the county to try and get that relaxed,” Shuemake said.
Solvang Branding and Design Committee members voted unanimously Wednesday to reopen Copenhagen Drive access to Parking Lot 2.
Skål Solvang serves as a wrapper around all the community’s fall events, including the 11th Annual Santa Ynez Valley Scarecrow Fest, Solvang Farmers Pumpkin Patch and corn maze, all with COVID-19 precautions including mask wearing and social distancing.
“We have fall seasonal events. … We do have these events that will continue with COVID modifications. So not all hope is lost. Not everything has been cancelled,” said Anna Ferguson of IDK.
A dedicated website will offer weekly promotions including links to virtual visits with the community’s bakers, chocolatiers and chefs, binge watching opportunities for digital content provided by Elverhøj Museum of History & Art, and special events such as food-and-photography tours.
Shuemake said the site provides a sustainable marketing outlet that is socially responsive for people who may not be comfortable visiting in person. The effort does not encourage travel discounts.
“Visitors are hungry for information, and we want to feed them,” Shuemake said.
Solvang officials are waiting with bated breath for decisions by county health officials regarding winter season gatherings. Shuemake said the probability of the drone show returning in 2020 “is next to nothing,” but the Christmas Tree lighting, if coupled with the city’s legal farmers market, could go ahead.
“We want to capture obviously as many of those who are willing to travel as we can by offering compelling experiences, you know, that are within the health and safety guidelines,” Shuemake said.
As visitors return to Solvang, the council also entertained proposals by the Solvang Chamber of Commerce ($284,192) and Central Coast Marketing ($188,300) to reopen the Solvang Visitors Center, but balked after both came in well above the city’s $75,000 budget. Council members also cited concerns about entering into a contract while state and county mandates continue controlling business operations indefinitely.
During council discussion, Chamber Executive Director Tracy Beard pulled her organization’s proposal, and threw her weight behind Brenda Ball’s company which, she said, “could fit within the scope of work what you want to do and within that price range. We cannot do that.”
The city will work with Central Coast Marketing to better define the scope of services that can be provided while also reopening the center’s doors through the end of the fiscal year. If Ball and the city cannot come to an agreement, the request for proposal will remain open.
In other action, the council held a minute of silence and read a proclamation recognizing Hazel Mortensen, long-time Solvang resident, who passed away Saturday at the age of 85.
Mortensen “was loved and respected by many for her selfless public service and a fierce voice for the protection of animals,” and was an outspoken citizen who appeared regularly at city council meetings and wrote letters to editors to voice concerns ranging from fairness in water rates to rat problems to her opinions on local law enforcement efforts.
A lifelong animal advocate, she led a failed effort to ban horse-drawn trolleys from Solvang, and in response to COVID-19 job losses, coordinated dog food distribution for families in need.
The proclamation also noted Mortensen “did her best to raise the level of civil engagement, civility and public discourse and … played an invaluable role in citizen oversight of elected officials and city management and advocacy for the rights of residents in the city.”
Council members also adjourned for more than an hour to closed session. City Attorney Chip Wullbrandt reported that session included discussions related to potential litigation relating to the State Water Resources Control Board regarding a water rights permit, and response to “a letter from legal council for Ed Skytt challenging certain actions of the city.” Wullbrandt said the council authorized city staff to “send copies of the two letters received by Mr. Skytt from the planning director over the last several months and remind them that they’ve been provided with the information to file an appropriate application to the city.”
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