It may not surprise you that California is the top travel destination in the United States, according to the destination marketing organization (DMO) Visit California. And it may not be news that the San Francisco Bay Area is the number one travel destination within our state. But did you know that the Tri-Valley region itself is a travel destination that drew 1.6 million overnight visitors - and millions more day visitors - in 2016?
Even though local residents may not think of the Tri-Valley as a tourist destination, travel and related businesses are responsible for nearly 6,000 jobs. Moreover, the benefits of regional tourism extend to nearly every resident.
"Every dollar that a visitor spends is alleviating the tax load on residents here," says Barbara Steinfeld, president of Visit Tri-Valley, the DMO responsible for promoting Danville, Dublin, Livermore, and Pleasanton as tourist destinations.
Until recently, it was impossible to track the full benefits of the Tri-Valley's tourism and related industries. "Those were the numbers we never had," says Steinfeld. That's because the state tracks statistics by county, and the Tri-Valley region straddles both Contra Costa and Alameda counties. To solve that problem, Visit Tri-Valley recently commissioned a report from experts who documented the economic benefits of Tri-Valley tourist spending. That spending increased from $557 million in 2012 to $646 million in 2016.
Visitors to Danville, Dublin, Livermore, and Pleasanton alone contributed $67 million in taxes last year to the state and local economies. Tourism brings in $32.8 million in tax receipts locally, says Steinfeld. "Just imagine if we had to cover $32.8 million more in taxes locally. Our firefighters, roads, sewers, and schools are being supported by the tax dollars that visitors are spending in our communities."
As a small organization, Visit Tri-Valley must be strategic in marketing the region. Traditionally it has focused on marketing the region as a weekend getaway to nearby areas such as the greater Bay Area and Sacramento. But that changed 18 months ago, when information from Visit California helped Steinfeld decide her group should go after the Chinese market as well. For help, she tapped Brand USA, the DMO for the United States.
Via a Brand USA program, the Tri-Valley region now has a sales representative and a PR representative. "In our first year we had $1.8 million worth of media coverage for the Tri-Valley in China, mostly through social media channels," says Steinfeld. By halfway through the second year, the Tri-Valley region had received $2.2 million worth of media coverage in China.
While favorable media coverage is important, actual bookings are the goal. "We want tour operators in China to book packages and to book their people through our hotels - that's the bottom line for us." Toward that end, the group does training, PR, and direct sales in China through its representatives. In the first year of the program, 30 tour operators in China added hotels in the Tri-Valley region to their tour programs, and a Visit Tri-Valley representative trained 423 travel agents.
Expanding the market for Tri-Valley tourism is a multi-year process. The early results from the program in China have been encouraging. So encouraging that in September, Steinfeld plans to add the United Kingdom as a new market. British Airways, the flagship airline of the UK, will begin direct flights between London and Oakland in September. Norwegian Air added its London-Oakland route last year.
A common pattern for visitors to California is to explore San Francisco, then hit the Premium Outlets in Livermore, and finally head to Yosemite. That creates a tremendous opportunity for marketing the Tri-Valley. Steinfeld says it makes sense to let UK tourists landing in Oakland know that that California's wine country is right down the road, along with shopping, hiking, and quality hotels with 100% free parking.
Tri-Valley hotels are doing well, and the region's hospitality industry is strong, according to Steinfeld. That includes the popular hotels in Hacienda, "which are doing great, and their occupancy rate is high."
Contributing to that occupancy rate are the nearly 60 wineries in the Tri-Valley area, which draw many tourists. "Our wine region is very special and historic, with roots going back five generations," says Steinfeld. "The Livermore Valley wine region has contributed deeply to the whole cachet of what is California's wine industry."
The oldest family operated winery in the nation can be found at Livermore's Wente Vineyards. In 1912 the family famously brought back a Chardonnay clone from Burgundy that became the source of 80% of all American Chardonnay plantings today. In 1961 Concannon Vineyard made history as well when the Livermore winery became the first to bottle Petite Sirah as a stand-alone, varietal wine.
The Tri-Valley area is noted for another beverage as well. Before Prohibition, when alcohol was outlawed for a time, "we used to grow hops for the whole country," says Steinfeld. While that is no longer the case, the 20 stops on the Tri-Valley Beer Trail of breweries give thirsty tourists yet another excellent reason to visit.
The San Francisco Premium Outlet's 180 shops in Livermore make up the state's largest outdoor outlet shopping mall. Although you may not think of the Premium Outlet as a draw for tourists, it brings in 5 million to 7 million day visitors every year, many of them from out of the area.
Another unexpected tourist destination is the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton. While locals know it well, thousands of tourists outside of the area are drawn to many of the events hosted at the fairgrounds. In recent years the world-renowned Scottish Highland Gathering & Games has brought in some 50,000 attendees for a weekend of dancing, competition, and other fun.
New events and destinations are expected to draw tourists as well. On October 14, the first Ignite event at the Firehouse Arts Center in Pleasanton will feature light installations, art displays, technology, robotics, talks, fire elements, entertainment, and food. Meanwhile The Wave, Dublin's new 31,000 square-foot aquatic facility and water park, has been helping residents and visitors stay cool since its grand opening earlier in the year.
Tourism helps residents as well as businesses, notes Steinfeld, who hopes locals will continue to show the warmth and friendliness associated with our area. "I would like every single person to understand they are personally an ambassador for the region," says Steinfeld. "What's good for tourism is good for the community, and what's good for the community is good for tourism."
Additional details about Tri-Valley tourism will be released at this year's annual Visit Tri-Valley luncheon on Thursday, September 14, at the Casa Real at Ruby Hill winery in Pleasanton.
For more information about Visit Tri-Valley, visit visittrivalley.com.