Published June 18, 2013
Volume 21, Number 6

Visit Tri-Valley’s New President Barbara Steinfeld Embraces the Learning Curve  

By Nicole Zaro Stahl

Barbara Steinfeld has a fun-filled season of discovery in front of her, even though it is primarily for business. As the newly recruited President of Visit Tri-Valley, the rebranded Tri-Valley Tourism Bureau, Steinfeld has to be familiar with the gamut of attractions throughout the agency’s service area of Danville, San Ramon, Dublin, Pleasanton, and Livermore.

From concert venues to community festivals to favorite hiking spots, Steinfeld is busy getting acquainted with the dazzling array of local amenities. Her time is also being spent building relationships with government officials, business leaders, and community stakeholders. These ties play a key role in fulfilling the agency’s foundational mission: promoting the Tri-Valley and booking business into area hotels.

“Visit Tri-Valley is essentially the sales and marketing arm that focuses on getting people from outside the region here for a weekend stay. Our bottom line measurement is hotel nights, or, in industry parlance, heads in beds,” Steinfeld explains.

While the hotels see a steady stream of corporate business during the work week, from Thursday to Sunday night they need extra help filling rooms. “To make that happen we need to sell this area as a tourism destination,” she continues. “It’s all about the wine country, our history and culture, California cuisine, hiking, biking, golf—the kinds of things people enjoy doing on the weekend.”

Steinfeld is no stranger to the tourism industry, nor to the West Coast, having spent the last 16 years at Travel Portland, where she was Vice President of Tourism Sales. Before that, she enjoyed sunnier skies as the International Tourism Manager at the Tampa Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau. That position followed four years of cold Midwestern winters as a Tourism and Economic Development Consultant for Nebraska.

Even before this in-depth industry experience, Steinfeld had proven her mastery of the profession. A few years after college, while living in Israel, Steinfeld found her community development work sparked an interest in becoming a tour guide. She enrolled in the intensive 16-month training program at the Israel School of Tourism.

The course was “amazing”--studying a country the size of New Jersey with 10,000 years of history. The group logged a total of 60 tour days, on a bus from sunup to sundown, and took tests on some 25 topics to become certified. “If you don’t pass one of the exam sections, you can’t get your license.” As an extra challenge, all the material was in Hebrew. “I consider getting that license my Masters, it was so thorough.”

Halfway into an eight-year stay in the country, Steinfeld was introduced to the man who would become her husband, a native Israeli who was doing his military reserve duty. He was a friend of a friend, and their first meeting took place over tea at the five-star King David Hotel in Jerusalem. 

Married life was a little less elegant. Her husband’s family raised turkeys on a cooperative agricultural settlement. Steinfeld was already working for the philanthropic organization Save the Children and simultaneously studying the tour guide curriculum when she took on a delicate and important farm task: inseminating hens to produce fertilized eggs to sell to a hatchery. 

Handling 1,000 hens twice a week was “dirty, intense, and constant,” Steinfeld recalls, but it was also critical to the success of the turkey operation. “The level of fertility determined what kind of profit the family made, so everything relied on how cleanly the hens were inseminated.” As in her other endeavors, Steinfeld was a high achiever, able to claim a fertility rate that was one of the highest in the country.

In high school and college Steinfeld had been a strong supporter of the state of Israel and rushed to graduate from Northwestern University in three years to move there and help build the country. After almost a decade, however, it was time to take a break from the “pressure-cooker” environment. To “mellow out,” she and her husband moved back to Omaha, Nebraska, where her parents lived and she had spent her formative years.

Steinfeld’s tour guide experience paved the way to a post in the state economic development department, in Lincoln, providing the opportunity to hone her business skills.  While there, the couple had their first child, a boy. “We left Israel for a little hiatus, thinking we’d be gone for a year or two, but we got sucked into life in America.”

After four years in the Midwest, the couple felt the need for a more cosmopolitan setting. They moved to Tampa, where Steinfeld worked in international development for the Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB). The next phase of her career took them to Portland, where she became only the fourth cultural tourism director in the U.S. to be hired by a CVB.  Given the strong role culture and the performing arts had played in her own upbringing, “it was the perfect job.”

Steinfeld explains that cultural tourism integrates the arts and heritage of a location and uses them to forge an identity or focus to attract visitors to a destination. The culture does not have to be world class to be a draw, but it must be authentic, with the kind of character that imparts a sense of place.

A key piece is making sure the region’s amenities are well known locally. “Sometimes it’s a hard sell to convince locals that they are a tourist destination. We want people who live here to love and appreciate what the Tri-Valley has to offer. If a visitor shows up and asks a taxi driver or front desk person what there is to do, the last thing you want is for the contact not to have a ready answer.”

To that end, Steinfeld is overseeing Visit Tri-Valley’s campaign promoting some of the region’s premier assets. A series of commercials make the statement, “This is my Tri-Valley, what’s yours?”  Area residents appear in vignettes that showcase attractions as varied as the Bankhead Theater and kayaking on Lake Del Valle.

To engage the local constituency, the campaign includes a social media contest inviting people to submit photos of their favorite spots or activities in the region. “We want them to tell us about their experiences and give them a chance to express pride of ownership.”

Barely two months into her tenure, Steinfeld has had little downtime, rushing from events like the Amgen bike race to a Giants game to a First Wednesday street party to a hike up Pleasanton Ridge. She and her husband, now empty nesters with one son working in New York City and the other in school at Portland State University, plan to enjoy many food-related pastimes—shopping at the Farmers Market, sampling the assortment of ethnic restaurants, cooking at home.

“On our second day here we joined two libraries,” Steinfeld notes. In the future it is likely she will participate in the local arts, but not as a promoter. A music lover, she is contemplating auditioning for a choir, as she did in Portland—although not in her first year on the job. While it might take some time to settle in, Steinfeld is already ahead of the learning curve on Tri-Valley culture. 

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