Tri-Valley Increases Focus on Cultural and Heritage Tourism

Residents enjoy living in the Tri-Valley for many reasons. They include wonderful weather, gorgeous landscapes, proximity to the world-famous Livermore Valley wine region, charming downtown districts, excellent sports venues, and local cultural institutions such as notable museums, art galleries, and theaters. Unsurprisingly, those attributes also make the region appealing to visitors, and tourism and hospitality are important economic drivers in the Tri-Valley.

Tri-Valley Strong

In 2019, the area saw 1.57 million visitors, according to a Dean Runyon Associates California Travel Impact Report. These visitors supported 6,600 Tri-Valley jobs and contributed a total of nearly $80 million in taxes to state and local governments. That year travel spending in the region rose to $723 million compared to $680 million in 2018. Then Covid arrived. The pandemic triggered a crisis that affected many industries. It was especially brutal on the tourist and hospitality industries as flights were canceled, shelter-in-place orders were implemented, and Americans were urged to stay home as much as possible. Many local companies struggled to survive.

In early 2020, as public reports of Covid increased in the United States, Tracy Farhad was the newly appointed President and CEO of Visit Tri-Valley (VTV). VTV is the destination marketing organization charged with helping support the local hospitality industry by attracting travelers and events to the region. Farhad and her colleagues moved into crisis mode and quickly adapted the organization's focus in response to the pandemic. The organization launched a Tri-Valley To Go promotional campaign, for example, to encourage local residents to get take-out orders from restaurants, breweries, and wineries during the shelter-in-place order. It also began sending a crisis information newsletter to business owners and encouraged them to use the #trivalleystrong hashtag in their social media to help generate community support.

Tri-Valley arts and cultural institutions were also deeply affected by the pandemic. "We realized very quickly, we needed to try to discover what we could do right then and there that would last for the long term and help the arts and cultural attractions of the Tri-Valley not only survive but thrive once we got out of Covid," says Farhad.

Renewed Emphasis on Culture and Heritage

For about two years, VTV has been working to increase its focus on promoting the Tri-Valley's cultural and heritage offerings. "If we're telling the full story of the Tri-Valley, it includes arts and culture," notes Farhad. "It was time to put them to the forefront and really emphasize our arts and culture."

Heritage tourism is defined as "traveling to experience the places, artifacts, and activities that authentically represent the stories and people of the past and present," by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Cultural tourism is defined as "movements of persons for essentially cultural motivations such as study tours, performing arts and cultural tours, travel to festivals and other cultural events, visits to sites and monuments, travel to study nature, folklore or art, and pilgrimages," according to the United National World Tourism Organization. Industry professionals often refer to this type of travel, one of the fastest growing sectors of the industry, simply as cultural heritage tourism, which "highlights the different cultures within destinations through its people, food, music, and art," as travel expert Stephanie Jones told writer Rafael Morataya. 

"For years it has been known that the cultural traveler, the person who actually travels for the purpose of discovering the history of an area, spends twice as much and stays twice as long as the non-cultural traveler," according to Farhad, who says the Tri-Valley's cultural heritage includes industries and events that are already celebrated such as the wine industry, the annual Livermore rodeo, and the yearly Scottish Highland Gathering and Games. It also includes popular activities, events, and institutions primarily enjoyed by locals, an eclectic mix that ranges from Pleasanton's historic Alviso Adobe to Livermore's brand-new mural tour to pop-up temporary public art exhibits such as Picture This to performances and events at the Bankhead Theater in Livermore and the Firehouse Arts Center in Pleasanton–and far beyond. 

In February 2021, VTV partnered with the U.S. Cultural & Heritage Marketing Council to host two online Cultural and Heritage Tourism Town Hall meetings that included  interviews with 30 local stakeholders "to find out where they stood, what was missing, what they needed, and what we had," notes Farhad. "We put out our very first report on cultural heritage in the Tri-Valley. From there, we realized that we needed to form a proactive Cultural Heritage Tourism Committee." 

The committee, which meets quarterly, includes representatives from all Tri-Valley cities, including San Ramon; arts commissioners for Alameda and Contra Costa; and representatives from the arts councils for each city. One committee goal is to tie local events and attractions to VTV's three-year strategic plan for extending overnight stays. Another is to make it easier for the cities to work together as they did recently in creating the temporary public art exhibit Picture This, a project led by Jessica Wallner, Recreation Superintendent for the Town of Danville Recreation Arts and Community Services Department. "Since I've been in this position, I've learned how much art goes into economic vitality," says Wallner. "What do people do? They go downtown, go into the shops, buy dinner, and see a show."

Visit Tri-Valley's refreshed website, which has added more arts and cultural content, is one aspect of the organization's new focus. Another is the summer campaign for 2022, called Hit the Road Less Traveled: Arts and Culture Al Fresco. Among other outdoor events, the website features the upcoming Goodguys 35th RaceDeck West Coast Nationals car show at the Alameda County Fairgrounds and Dublin's Splatter, a multi-cultural event that celebrates "fine wine, diverse cuisine, and the unique and creative arts found in the Tri-Valley." 

In the future, Farhad envisions a joint Tri-Valley calendar of events that makes it easier for both visitors and locals to find information of interest via a single portal. In the meantime, the committee and the community are collaborating in a variety of ways. "One of the fun things that happened is that the Bankhead and the Firehouse did a joint coop marketing piece, which they had never done before." 

VTV markets all of the whys and the hows of the Tri-Valley, all of the reasons why people would want to come here to visit. Local residents can help Visit Tri-Valley inspire travel to this area by simply going out and enjoying local venues, events, and institutions themselves, according to Farhad.

"The locals have to support their own local arts programs," she says. "Just get out there, try something different, support it. You would be surprised how that feeds the soul." If more motivation is needed, consider this: "What every visitor wants to experience is what the locals love. It's kind of like choosing a restaurant by looking in a window to see if it's popular. Please explore and enjoy our own local offerings, because it means a lot to support local first."

For more information about Visit Tri-Valley, please visit

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