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Turning mud & soccer into money
Visitors Center works to lure tourist dollars to Manteca
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Bass Pro Shops lured more than 2.5 million visitors to Manteca last year. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Good luck trying to book a hotel room in Manteca the weekend of April 21-22.

Between 250 teams descending on Manteca for a major Northern California youth soccer tournament and more than 7,000 people already registered for the Mud Challenge at the Dell’Osso Farms , every motel room in Manteca and Lathrop is being snapped up. The overflow is already filling up motel rooms in nearby Ripon, Stockton and even Modesto.

Even if most of the participants along with their family and friends at the two events expected to number in excess of 15,000 don’t stay the night, many are expected to spend money eating, getting gasoline, and shopping.

That’s where the Manteca Visitors Center comes into play.

It is up to the organization funded in part by City of Manteca motel tax receipts to do whatever it can to lure those visitors into Manteca businesses to spend money. The city’s goal in funding the Manteca  Visitors center is three-fold. First, they want local businesses to prosper. Second, they want to protect and expand employment opportunities. And perhaps most important for a city weathering tough budget times, they want to generate more sales tax and motel room taxes.

“Our goal is to get visitors to Manteca to help pay for police and fire services,” noted Suzanne Clemens who serves as the marketing representative for the Manteca Visitors Center.

And it isn’t just wishful thinking. Manteca last fiscal year collected $7.3 million in sales tax from traditional retail outlets. Eight of the top 12 retail categories that account for 85 percent of all Manteca retail sales tax revenue are in areas where visitors are likely to spend money.

A quarter of all retail taxes is collected from department stores. The actual revenue Manteca has collected in that category has gone up 50 percent since 2008 to $1.8 million after Bass Pro Shops opened in 2008. Number two on the list accounting for 10 percent of retail sales tax are restaurants followed by gas stations at 9 percent.

Manteca also received a record $482,825 in hotel room tax during the fiscal year ending June 30, 2011. That’s up nearly $140,000 from the previous year.

The visitors center helped direct inquiries from organizers of the Mud Challenge who wanted to do an event in the Manteca area to take advantage of its proximity to both the Bay Area and Sacramento markets. They also work closely with groups staging events such as soccer tournaments to put everything from merchant coupons to information about Manteca restaurants and attractions into the hands of participants and attendees. They even help book hotel rooms.

As city revenues have shrunk, the visitors’ center mission has become more critical. And just like other small businesses, the visitors’ center has seen its revenue decrease as well forcing it to rethink how it does its job.

Chief Executive Officer Juliene Flanders said the result was a decision by the board to concentrate on their core business of helping snare visitors dollars for Manteca.

As a result, they are rethinking the events they do to free up staff time to target visitors. That has meant working with other community groups to take over some of the events that they have done in previous years.

“We are focusing on being the marketing arm for Manteca, “Flanders noted.