At first glance for motorists passing through, Solvang has the appearance of a typical, sleepy rural village. Quiet and beautiful.

Sleepy, that is, unless you’re passing through on a holiday, a special-event weekend or any of the weeks around the Christmas holiday season. Then, it is abundantly clear that Solvang is a thriving tourism mecca, perhaps not on the scale of a Disneyland or Sea World, but thriving all the same.

Now, with the Solvang City Council’s decision to lop off its major tourism-producing appendages, locals are left to wonder just how much thrive there is left in the village.

A major tourism generator has been the Solvang Conference and Visitors Bureau, which lost the city’s financial support a few weeks ago, and last week cut the bureau’s top three movers and shakers, including Tracy Farhad, the bureau’s executive director; Brenda Ball, digital media director; and Lana Clark, bookkeeper. All were laid off after the bureau’s board of directors, faced with a funding crisis, issued the pink slips. Last fiscal year, the city provided the SCVB with $775,000, and the organization had requested $850,000 for this fiscal year.

The three positions may not be permanently lost, because the nonprofit organization is attempting to negotiate a new contract with the city. That offers some hope for the bureau and the now-unemployed workers, but judging from recent actions by the council, and comments from some council members, the hope is scant at best.

We live in an ever-evolving world, and it is unreasonable to expect stuff to last forever — which is the fact we considered concerning Solvang’s thriving tourism industry, the cash cow that refills the city’s revenue stream, year in and year out. What happens now? And how quickly does it happen?

There are few answers from the mayor and council, from which come utterances of wishful thinking about keeping tourism alive and well. It could very well be that these decision makers are counting on Solvang’s hard-earned reputation as a top-level tourist destination — much of that reputation thanks to the work of the SCVB trio recently sent packing.

It is entirely possible the tourism-building process provided a stout enough foundation that pouring more tax dollars into any effort to bring in more tourists would be money down the drain.

It also is entirely possible that Solvang will quickly slip off the radar of the traveling, visiting hoards, who will take their vacation dollars elsewhere.

There is no way to know what will happen, but it might be comforting to Solvang residents — many of whom are wholly dependent on the incomes provided by tourism dollars — if our elected leaders could explain their strategy for Solvang’s future.

Because if the tourists go elsewhere, it’s a sure thing that Solvang will revert to the sleepy, rural village it started out as in the early 1900s.

It’s too soon to assign blame because nothing really has changed — yet. Except that some good, hard-working people lost their jobs. And those now-idled workers don’t have much to say about the situation. Farhad, who has been the primary face and voice of Solvang tourism for years, was asked for comment, but declined.

Savvy public relations folks tend to avoid the media in negative and/or dire situations, which this certainly is, and even though we’re in the media biz, we can’t truthfully fault such a strategy.

Meanwhile, the City Council’s decision on this issue will save a lot of money in the short run, but you really have to wonder about the long run.


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