Courtesy of Visit Yosemite-Madera County
Tourists hold Yosemite Now advertising campaign logos at the Mariposa Grove as part of a park gateways push for visitors following the Ferguson Fire.
On a Friday night, July 13, the Ferguson Fire began in the South Fork Merced River drainage on the Sierra National Forest. Within 24 hours, it grew to 828 acres.
Before containment Aug. 19, it would take two lives from among those who fought it, injure 19, devour 96,901 acres and 10 structures, close Yosemite National Park for more than two weeks, and thereby deprive gateway communities of tourism they rely on to sustain them throughout the year.
Some Yosemite gateway businesses earn the majority of their annual income in July and August, according to USA Today at the time.
“It hit at the biggest … 30 days of the whole year for tourism,” said Rhonda Salisbury, CEO of the county’s official visitors bureau Visit Yosemite-Madera County.
Fortunately, cooperation by visitors bureaus of all four of Yosemite’s entry points eased that pain somewhat. In late August, the county’s bureau worked with the three other gateway bureaus to create a campaign called Yosemite Now, which eventually featured fresh photos and videos showing the park’s iconic areas were still intact.
“We went out to the whole world and said come to Yosemite now,” Salisbury told Madera County supervisors at their regular meeting Nov. 20.
The local visitors bureau “worked with media from all over the U.S. and internationally,” she told the Tribune. “Individually we did public service announcements in the Bay Area, print and digital ads, (and) lots and lots of social media posts.”
With county funds, Visit Yosemite-Madera County partnered with Expedia, Travelocity, Trip Advisor, Yosemite Journal, etc. to promote immediate bookings for the county.
“We did a $15,000 campaign with Expedia,” Salisbury said, resulting in “bookings of $132,000 within the first three weeks. That’s just people who booked right then and there.” It created “776 room nights,” or about 1,500 people who “came almost immediately to the area.”
About 1.8 million online advertisements promoting local Yosemite tourism were loaded by web browsers during the Expedia campaign alone.
“Because of your help,” Salisbury told county supervisors, “we were able to really jump on that wagon, spend some money and try to drive (tourism) traffic back ... mostly the messaging that we are open” despite the Ferguson Fire.
The Yosemite Now campaign also received a $25,000 grant from Visit California for the four gateways to do joint marketing, “which we did for the month of October with Sunset magazine (as well as) e-blasts, e-newsletters, social media,” etc.
“Visit California was very important in the messaging,” she told the Tribune. “Their international offices monitored visitor sentiment and news all over the world. They were able to send out ‘real’ information instead of the over-sensationalized information that was being reported in the media. With their huge reach both domestically and internationally, they were a very important part of messaging that Yosemite was okay.”
Not including the grant, the four bureaus “spent about $50,000 or more.” Part of those funds were spent for a still ongoing partnership with NBC Los Angeles. Overall, their efforts had a measurable impact.
“We saw a 17 percent loss in lodging revenue in the unincorporated areas of Madera County for the 3rd quarter (of the year), which includes summer,” said Salisbury. “We are now seeing (an) about 11 percent increase in October and 10 percent in November.”
The Sierra National Forest finally declared the Ferguson Fire extinguished Nov. 29, and forest management efforts are still in progress to address hazards, such as falling trees, caused by the blaze.
Looking ahead, Salisbury said the bureau is “working towards a very special animated campaign for 2019” as well as its current winter campaigns, which are helpful because Yosemite tourism peaks in the summer.
The seasonal roads, Tioga and Glacier Point, in Yosemite National Park have been closed for the winter season, but the park is open year-round with snow removal on all other roads within the park. State routes 120 West, 140, and 41 generally remain open year-round and provide access to Yosemite Valley. The Hetch Hetchy Road is open for day use throughout the winter months.
All motorists traveling to Yosemite National Park now through winter are required to carry snow chains, even if their vehicle has four-wheel drive.
Call (209) 372-0200 for 24-hour road and weather conditions for the park. Visit www.yosemitethisyear.com for information on Madera County’s visitors bureau. Visit www.yosemitegateways.com for information from all four park entry visitors bureaus.