In what appears to be a bargain (relatively speaking), California’s tourism board reportedly spent $600,000 to draw Michelin into producing a state-wide guide, the tire company’s first such guide in the U.S. The number comes from restaurant industry newsletter Family Meal — according to Visit California (via that blog), the money is used to “underwrite the hard costs of expanding the presence of Michelin inspectors throughout the state.”
The guide will remain totally editorially independent from the tourism board, meaning only Michelin will decide which restaurants are considered, although Visit California will also provide in-kind promotional help of an unspecified value. The guide will also absorb San Francisco’s existing Michelin Guide, the only one currently being published in the state.
The rationale is that the statewide guide will hopefully draw more tourists — particularly high-spending, fine-dining types — thus injecting more dollars into the economy. It also, in theory, adheres to Michelin’s original intent for publishing the guides: to encourage road trips from one dining destination to another.
It seems that Visit California might have received a decent deal here: It’s quite common for tourism boards or similar government-affiliated bodies to dangle money before Michelin in the hopes of getting local guides. The Tourism Authority of Thailand pledged around $880,000 per year over five years to get a Bangkok guide published, and the Korean Tourism Organization offered around $1.8 million spread over five years. Of course, California’s deal could be lessened somewhat if the tourism board commits to repeated funding over several years beyond that $600,000 — however, a representative tells Eater that this amount is a one-year investment, and that Visit California has not committed to future funding.
“Future negotiations with Michelin will depend on the ROI the guide delivers for California’s tourism industry in this first year,” writes Ryan Becker of the tourism board.
Such public funding isn’t just limited to Michelin Guides, though: Tourism boards have historically thrown cash and incentives to draw a wide range of food-related publicity. Australia’s national tourism board spent $600,000 just to get a one-off ceremony for the World’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2017, while Chicago secured a hefty $2.8 million in sponsorships to draw the James Beard Award ceremonies across 2016 and 2017.
Meanwhile, a whole season of Bravo’s reality-TV juggernaut Top Chef is a little more affordable — and likely draws more publicity, given that the attention is spread over up to 18 episodes in a season, rather than a one-off event. (It also directs would-be tourists to a wider range of restaurants beyond the ultra-fine-dining venues preferred by Michelin.)
Two Louisiana tourism boards spent a combined $375,000 to entice the reality show there in 2013 (notoriously using money from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill recovery fund), while Seattle spent $300,000 for its season that aired in 2012, and Texas, $600,000 (split across the state and San Antonio tourism boards) for the season that aired in 2011. For its most recent season in Kentucky, Top Chef reportedly received up to $3.5 million in production tax breaks from the state, in the hopes that it would result in “millions” of dollars in future tourism.