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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on December 10th, 2019, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 20, Issue 41 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 20, Issue 41

The city of Solvang attempts to boost the marketing potential of a long-held tradition


Julefest has long been a staple of Solvang’s tourism experience.

It’s one of the events the City Council wants to use to boost the city’s marketing potential as it seeks to reorient Solvang’s economic mission.

Mayor Ryan Toussaint said the city is looking at more than just the events themselves, but how they fit the city’s entire economic development plan.

“The whole approach to this is to attain a more self-sustaining business model if you can at least get close to full cost recovery,” Toussaint said.

Julefest continues the council’s efforts to host events that pay for, or nearly pay for, themselves. That means investing in things like closed venues where attendees can buy a beer or glasses of wine. The result, the mayor hopes, is more opportunities for local merchants to make money.

The experiment includes a raft of new additions to Julefest, including a drone lights show, similar to a silent fireworks display. In City Council meetings leading up to the event, council members asked for something that would make a big splash, that would pull in attention from the Santa Ynez Valley to Solvang and the fun that can be had there. As plans to add new features to the month-long event shifted, national media took notice, including the Los Angeles Times travel section.

But the pivot toward beefing up in Solvang’s events began with the ouster of a longtime partner.

The Solvang Conference and Visitors Bureau’s (SCVB) marketing strategy centered on drawing tourists to the city through publicity in various TV shows, films, and documentaries. After Toussaint became mayor, he and fellow City Council members expressed their displeasure with that strategy and also questioned a number of fundamentals with the city’s contract with SCVB. After months of arguments and attempts to negotiate, the partnership dissolved. 

The city of Solvang moved on. 

For Fall Fest, a three-day, free-admission event from Nov. 15 through 17, the city wanted there to be something for everyone: bands for teenagers, a festival for the families, and a place to grab a drink for the adults.

Toussaint said more than 15,000 people attended.

“What I really liked about it was that it had a really high ratio of locals,” Toussaint said. “And it was families. Whether it was a baby in a stroller, kids riding the roller coaster, or grandparents.”

It was the sort of event, he said, that Solvang could stamp its name on.

With the separation from the SCVB fully cemented, the city reached out to a new company, IDK Events, to organize Julefest. The instructions were straightforward, if not simple: Make Julefest bigger and bring in events that will announce themselves with a roar. 

Once IDK was installed to organize Julefest, it introduced the drone light show slated for Dec. 21, which brought on the national attention.

“I can tell you with authority that the LA Times has not written a positive story about Solvang since 2014,” said Scott Shuemake, co-owner of IDK Events.

But the aerial light show won’t be cheap. The LED-outfitted drones, Shuemake said, will cost about $60,000. 

The show—the only one of its kind in Southern California—will be viewable from 5-plus miles away, but the best viewing will be within a few thousand feet. Shuemake said if weather disrupts the show, drones will hit the sky the following night, Dec. 22.

The total cost of everything will be $200,000. But Shuemake said the cost is in service of creating a brand that could be used for future marketing opportunities. 

“When we were hired by the city, our primary goal was to create a marketing tool,” he said.

Julefest will have many attractions geared toward children. The city’s spending $10,000 on snow for the weekends and $10,000 on animals, plus live reindeer. 

They’re also offering free gift wrapping and dog grooming at Santa’s Village.

“A lot of people think we’re doing the right thing and there are plenty of people who don’t,” Shuemake said.

The emphasis has been on “show-stopper” events intended to make a big impression now and establish Julefest as the kind of event that is synonymous with blockbuster items like the drone show.

But Shuemake said the idea is to broaden Julefest from being just an event, or series of events, and brand it as an entire season.

The goal is to continue to make Julefest unique in a way that will add value for merchants, Shuemake said.

One of those things is dubbed “JuleFEAST,” an open-air dinner on the city’s well-known Copenhagen Drive. Heralded as a “first of its kind” event in Solvang, the feast on Dec. 12 will consist of four courses, plus wine.

It, like other city plans for Julefest, could attract large audiences, traffic, and other stresses that a sizable gathering of people can impose on a city of approximately 6,000 people.

“I think if we manage people’s expectations and deliver a quality product, we’ll earn the city’s business in the future,” Shuemake said. 

Reach Staff Writer William D’Urso at

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