The worst wildfire year in California history also singed Mt. Shasta tourism, according to a report presented during Monday’s City Council meeting.
Data provided by the Chamber of Commerce showed the number of visitors in August – the peak of the summer travel season – declined 66% from the previous year. Tourism overall, which is based on the Chamber’s fiscal reporting period that begins in October and ends in September, was down 21%.
In addition to the fires, a major freeway construction project that shut down half of Interstate 5 for four months didn’t help matters.
“It was definitely the worst summer since I have been working here,” said council member John Stackfleth. “Essentially the Labor Day drop off started in August.”
None of this seemed to even slightly faze Jim Mullins, the Chamber’s always upbeat executive director. “Big Jim” saw a couple of diamonds through all the smoke.
A new, live HD web cam that has been operational for only a few months has quickly become the second most popular feature on the Chamber’s website, he said. With almost half of all visitors to Mt. Shasta stating that nature is the primary reason for their visit, the web cam makes a great digital billboard broadcasting the town’s most iconic image on a daily basis.
The cam can also be remotely operated form the roof of the police station so when it is not broadcasting a bluebird day on Mt. Shasta it can also pick up other events such as the annual Christmas tree lighting downtown.
“It’s a nice tool for us to advertise,” Mullens said. “That is just getting started with our sharing capabilities.”
After nature and people pulling off Interstate 5 while simply driving by, the region’s spiritual base remains strong.
“The spiritual quest is a big part of the community,” Mullins said, which may or may not explain in part the number of local crystal stores.
But one trend that remains rock solid is Mt. Shasta’s international exposure as a travel destination, according to the report. Canadians are the most frequent foreign visitors followed by the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, and France.
Interestingly, while Interstate 5 is given as a primary reason why so many people from Canada end up visiting here because of its north-south axis, Mexico was not listed in the report.
But it is the folks who live a six-hour drive from Mt. Shasta that Mullins said he is most interested in capturing. An estimated 27% of all visitors who travel from within California fit into that category.
“When you get (someone) who is coming from a more than six-hour drive away, what they are looking for is a destination,” Mullins said. “It is our job to hold them here, supply them with activities so they want to come back.”
Mullins said his goal since he took over in 2016 as executive director of the Chamber is to increase membership to 300 businesses. That target remains somewhat elusive – current membership stands at 296. Annual attrition rates are tough to overcome.
Last year the Chamber gained 35 new members but lost 29. Mullins said the losses stem in part from home-based service businesses that are not vested in the community and do not fit the traditional brick-and-mortar model.
“People move here, they start a service but they don’t buy into town,” he said. “Since I have been here, I have seen an influx year after year. Those same 30 to 40 people. We go down and then back up. We need to really look at getting some (vibrant) businesses downtown.”
In other council news, plans to apply for a $1 million state Community Development Block Grant were presented by Finance Director Muriel Howarth-Terrell.
The grant would consist of $500,000 for two public service programs and $500,000 for economic development programs. Among the services provided are snow removal for an estimated 150 seniors, the only program of its kind on California, according to Howarth-Terrell.
“We have had six CDBG awards since 2006,” she said. “Basically, it is every other year.”