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There Is A Lot Riding On This Year’s Car Week

Big Sur Food and Wine Festival
Ferraris on display at the Barnyard in Carmel during a previous Car Week. The annual event is sponsored by the Big Sur Food and Wine Festival

Before the pandemic, Car Week was a major event on the Monterey Peninsula. Now it’s back. Over the next two weeks, 85 thousand visitors are expected to arrive, adding $67 million to the local economy. After suffering through the pandemic, local businesses hope the crowds and money will shift recovery into overdrive.
Chris Shake's office sits directly across from his Monterey restaurant on Fisherman’s wharf. The Old Fisherman’s Grotto is one of three local restaurants he and his family own. Restaurants that were closed, or carry-out only, for much of last year.

“The streets were empty, people weren't walking around, there was no business. I've never experienced anything like this,” Shake said.

Finally, in March of this year, Monterey County moved into the red tier and restaurants could begin serving in-doors again. That was a turning point.

“We've seen a huge resurgence. We're getting a lot of visitors from the Central Valley, from Sacramento, the Bay Area,” Shake said. “It seems like it's more business than we can handle.  The crowds are huge here in Monterey.”

That’s a good sign for Car Week. Another good sign is that while Shake’s restaurants don’t take reservations, they are getting calls.

“We get many phone calls every day,” Shake said.. “It certainly has been a lot more than past years.”

Some of the Car Week events are already sold out, and many of the major hotels are sold out if you try to book for the entire run of Car Week.

There are individual nights available, but rooms in a nice bed-and-breakfast or a major hotel start at $1000 a night.

While things are looking good for the event don’t put the top down just yet, there are some storm clouds ahead.

“We have seen some recent research that the Delta variant is causing people to think twice,” said Monterey County Convention and Visitors Bureau CEO Rob O’Keefe.

The variant is particularly worrisome for international visitors, O’Keefe said, “because different countries have different requirements and restrictions, whether they can travel or not.”
And international visitors are important, making up nearly 15 percent of attendees and spending four to five times as much as the average visitor.

O’Keefe said most events are outside and event producers are requiring masks, social distancing and even, in some cases, proof of vaccination. He said his organization is doing all it can to reassure the public that Monterey is safe.

Businesses and their employees aren’t the only ones looking to Car Week for an economic boost. Cities are as well. Hans Uslar is Monterey’s City Manager.

“Our main revenue sources really depend on the hospitality industry,” Uslar said.

In fact, 40 percent of the city’s general fund comes from visitor taxes on hotels and sales. So it’s easy to see how the lockdowns were devastating.

“We are actually categorized by the state auditor of California as one of the most hit cities following Anaheim with Disneyland there,” Uslar said.

The city is still restoring services cut during the pandemic, and it is looking to Car Week to provide hope as well as a windfall. The city’s hotel tax is 12 percent. Remember those $1000 a night rooms?

“It means for the city our hotel tax will, for those times, almost triple,” Uslar said.

If you are local and want to avoid Car Week, the county has a webpage with the events for each day and links to traffic cams, so you can navigate your way around. Here is a link to that page. Click on the event for a description and on “more information” to go to the traffic cam.

Car Week begins Friday — so buckle up.


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