The Tuolumne County Tourism Summit begins at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, May 24. Cost is $60 for members, $75 for non-members. Breakfast and lunch are included.

At the Best Western Plus Sonora Oaks Hotel and Conference Center Wednesday, the Tuolumne Visitors Bureau will be putting on its third annual tourism summit.

There will be a number of presenters, including Visit California, San Francisco Travel, the bureau's film liaison and a local expert on social media. It's a full day on a topic vitally important to Tuolumne County.

Last year, tourists spent $230 million here — making tourism the county's largest private industry.

And much more is to come with events such as next week's Comic Con, a trendy event usually seen in much larger communities that attracts all manner of (usually) young people interested in comics and their heroes.

Then in the fall, there is the Unruly Country Brew N’ Que Festival, an officially sanctioned competition along with a cornhole tournament (also officially sanctioned).

What's interesting about those two events besides being new is they likely will bring into the community people other than those who already know about the history and beauty of Tuolumne County.

It doesn't take long talking to Lisa Mayo, the executive director of the Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau, to see she's all about new, too. That doesn't mean she's not paying attention to the events and marketing that's worked before. It just means Tuolumne County's tourism industry is maturing, grasping for creativity in a highly competitive business.

Mayo said one effort for her agency is to revitalize the film production under the care of UC Santa Cruz film graduate Bethany Wilkinson.

Films and especially TV shows were prominent moneymakers for this area, from the 1910s on, but most heavily in the 1950s and 1960s when shows like “Bonanza” and “The Big Valley” were made here.

Wilkinson is just back from a conference in Los Angeles, where she talked up Tuolumne County as a location, and she's updating a resource guide that includes local talent and locations.

“I don't know that we're going to get back to Westerns being filmed here,” Mayo said, “but TV commercials are a possibility.”

The striking mountain scenery could be as much a draw for automobile manufacturers as the California coast.

Mayo said she's also heard from reality television show producers and most recently a vitamin company.

Other promising areas are small corporate retreats that locations like Rush Creek Lodge near Yosemite, Black Oak Casino in Tuolumne and Best Western Plus could handle. And Mayo envisions a time when companies hold events on houseboats or trains.

She is also marketing internationally, especially to the United Kingdom and Canada. And publicizing the Highway 108 corridor and the northern part of Yosemite (away from the Valley, which attracts 95 percent of the 4 million annual visitors).

“There's a lot happening here,” Mayo said. “We can't control road closures and dead trees but we can do what we can to keep tourism the No. 1 private industry.”

Some residents push back against tourists. They clog the roadways and make it hard to get into a favorite restaurant. But the truth is there would be far fewer restaurants and other amenities without the people who come to visit.

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