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Hurt By The Pandemic, Santa Maria Valley On Central Coast Paying Tourists To Visit

SANTA BARBARA COUNTY (CBS SF / CNN) -- When Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a second state-wide lockdown in early December, businesses across California braced for more economic hardship.

For officials in the Santa Maria Valley on the Central Coast, it was a wake-up call to develop a plan to help the local businesses.

The result was a program called "Visit Santa Maria Valley," which will pay tourists $100 to visit and stay for a minimum of two nights at one of the many hotels in the area. The payment comes in the form of a voucher that can be used at any of the town's wineries, breweries or restaurants. The promotion starts on February 4 and ends March 31.

Santa Maria Valley, which lies about 65 miles north of Santa Barbara, offers many of the same amenities as the more well-known California destinations, but at a lower price, officials said.

"Santa Maria Valley has so much to offer," Jennifer Harrison, Direct of the Santa Maria Valley Visitors Bureau, told CNN. "We have beautiful beaches, hotels and wineries that are such a great option for budget-conscious travelers during a time of economic rebound."

Indeed, the Central Coast region boasts 13 beaches and 34 tasting rooms all within a 30-minute drive, according to the Santa Maria Valley website which lists dozens of activities including hiking, golfing, art exploration and birdwatching.

Safety first

Harrison said her team is working diligently to follow CDC safety protocols, adding that Santa Maria Valley is less crowded than other California destinations and can more easily enforce social-distancing guidelines. She also mentioned that the town typically attracts visitors that come by car, rather than plane, due to the somewhat remote location.

"'Visit Santa Maria Valley' is calling on visitors to discover the region in a safe, responsible way," Harrison said. "Our wine-tasting rooms, outdoor spaces, restaurants and hotels have worked together to evolve health and safety protocols so that visitors can experience the charm of the area."

The program was launched as Yelp's 2020 Economic Average report recently found that small towns which rely on tourism have been significantly affected by the pandemic.

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