visit slo calVisit SLO CAL is proud to announce the 2017 winners of its annual SLO CAL Tourism Awards.

The four honorees were announced Thursday, May 11, during a luncheon at Visit SLO CAL’s annual SLO CAL Tourism Exchange, where more than 175 local tourism professionals gathered. The event celebrated National Travel and Tourism Week with presentations and educational sessions from local, state and national experts on the latest industry trends and insights, with the goal of helping San Luis Obispo County continue growing its robust tourism economy.

This year’s honorees represented four categories, the Visitor Destination Experience Award, Environmental Tourism Excellence, the Tourism Hero Award and Tourism Industry Champion Award.

“By virtue of their business acumen, community involvement, creativity and sheer hard work, these honorees truly epitomize the spirit of SLO CAL,” said Chuck Davison, president CEO of Visit SLO CAL. “The award winners all have helped evolve and enhance guest experiences in San Luis Obispo County, further solidifying the county’s place among America’s top travel destinations.”

The Visitor Destination Experience was awarded to Santa Margarita Ranch, for its wide ranging tourism appeal that is rooted in the region’s agricultural history: it’s a wine destination; a zip line park and a wedding and events venue, all while being a leader in ecofriendly practices and historical conservation. The Ranch also recently added new meeting and conference space, a tourism sector that is proving to be an opportunity San Luis Obispo County’s future.

The Tourism Hero Award was awarded to our region’s bravest, CAL FIRE, for its tireless and dangerous work putting out the string of wild fires this past year and for its self-less effort in protecting San Luis Obispo County year-round. In 2016, the Chimney fire lasted almost a month, burned over 45,000 acres and destroyed 78 structures, and threatened thousands more. Unit Chief Scott Jalbert accepted the award noting that, while some would see such destruction as a failure, the large number of buildings, land and businesses saved indicate a big success. County Supervisor John Peschong got on stage, as well, to thank CAL FIRE for their efforts and to recognize the many entities and individuals who helped them in fighting the Chimney Fire.

Environmental Tourism Excellence was awarded to Pismo Beach’s Monarch Butterfly Grove. The attraction and program are a fantastically fun and educational experience for over 100,000 visitors a year. The Butterfly Grove builds awareness for the endangered Monarch butterfly, and provides a deeper environmental understanding of the coastline and inland eco-systems of San Luis Obispo County.

The 2017 Tourism Industry Champion Award was presented to Jonni Biaggini. Biaggini was the first Executive Director of the SLO County Visitors and Conference Bureau (now called Visit SLO CAL) when it was formed in the mid-1990s. Serving as the Executive Director for 22 years, Biaggini is credited with bringing the San Luis Obispo County Film Commission under the purview of county tourism, and helping build local tourism into a billion-dollar countywide industry.