Bipin Ramaiya, president and CEO of California Parlor Car Tours, has sent 2,000 batches of cookies to travel agents all over the country.
The sweet move is part of a personal advertising campaign by Ramaiya, head of a bus company, who wants to beef up tourism in places like Solvang, Monterey, and San Luis Obispo - all California cities that have felt the "ripple" effects of the Oct. 17 earthquake.San Francisco's $3.4 billion tourism industry, the city's largest business, is down 10 percent to 25 percent in the wake of the quake, according to the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau.
But the city isn't the only place that has suffered. Other California cities which are part of the traditional tourism trail for foreign and East Coast visitors have also experienced a drop in tourism.
The "ripple effect" of the quake on tourism in other parts of the state is the subject of concern among travel industry leaders around the nation.
George Snyder, executive vice president of the American Bus Association, estimates that "when that busload of people leaves from Phoenix and doesn't stop in San Francisco, that's $3,000 and $4,000" in hotel, meal and drink expenditures lost to the smaller communities which act as stopovers in between.
Wylie Whisonant, deputy undersecretary of the Department of Commerce said the "ripple effect" is often seen wherever a natural disaster strike; often, communities can take up to two years to regain previous tourism levels, he said.
"The ripple effect is very clearly felt in cities within 300 to 400 miles of San Francisco," according to San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos. Tourists who visit San Francisco "make that their base of operations to go to Yosemite, to Sacramento, on their way to Lake Tahoe, or Monterey or Petaluma," Agnos said. It's one more reason, he says, why the health of San Francisco's hospitality industry is "very important to all of them."
Ramaiya's firm, one of the Bay area's oldest bus companies, transports 20,000 to 30,000 visitors from the East Coast to major California tourist attractions up and down the state. Since the earthquake, he says, reservations for San Francisco are down 50 percent.
"The communities affected are places like Solvang, San Luis Obispo, Pismo Beach and Monterey," where bus tours from Los Angeles normally stop - often overnight for sightseeing - on their way to San Francisco, says Ramaiya. "The business has really dropped off there ... (these cities also) are getting half of what they did a year ago."
Carla Murray, Sheraton marketing director in Monterey, agrees, saying the hotel there lost $250,000 in canceled reservations in the two weeks following the quake. Since then, tourism at Monterey has continued to be affected dramatically, she says.
Ramaiya says that, since tourists plan vacations months in advance, the downtrend may continue until at least May. Getting through to those individual tourists, who may simply have decided to go elsewere this year, is a tough proposition, he says.
So Ramaiya, with his 2,000 packages of cookies from Solvang, hopes to convince national and international travel agents that California - all of it - is still standing in the wake of the quake.
"We're reminding them," he says, "every way we can."
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.)