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Tri-Valley tourism taking a hit, but keeps on ticking

CEO of San Francisco visitor's bureau says Bay Area bureaus need to work together, remodel business strategies for current times

Increasing tourism during an economic recession may not be a realistic goal, but waving the white flag isn't going to solve anything either. That was the message the head of the San Francisco Convention & Visitor's Bureau gave to a few hundred attendees at the Tri-Valley bureau's annual partnership meeting last week.

Amy Blaschka, president and CEO of the Tri-Valley Convention & Visitor's Bureau, told the audience, gathered at the newly renovated Shannon Community Center in Dublin, that "things are looking up" for the bureau.

Dublin will play host to the Earl Anthony's Professional Bowler's Association Tournament at the bowling alley in mid-January, an event that will be broadcast live on ESPN. Pleasanton can look forward to a San Jose Sharks affiliate-sponsored complex on the Staples Ranch property, Danville will again welcome the LPGA women's golf tournament and Livermore will be home to a premium outlet center, she added.

And maybe the most promising, Blaschka said, will be a new California Welcome Center in Livermore.

"This is really exciting," she said. "They have one in Pismo Beach. With that track record, Livermore and the entire Tri-Valley stand to benefit with increased awareness and exposure."

There are also new developments to one of the Valley's biggest draws--wine country.

"Concannon Vineyard just opened its brand new tasting room and Wente is working on a new event space on its Tesla (Road) location," Blaschka said, adding that Livermore Valley's marketing tactics has Napa taking notes.

But while much of that news was rosy, Blaschka acknowledged the tough times the tourism and hospitality industry is in and as she put it, "we're a victim of our own success." Charged with higher expectations and goals, sales are still looking positive though, she said, and much of that is due to the CVB team cultivating relationships.

"It's not just one city," she said. "They all work together to make it happen."

And no one perhaps knows that better than the event's keynote speaker, Joe D'Alessandro, president and CEO of the San Francisco bureau, who stressed to the audience that there is strength in numbers.

"No destination, as compelling as it is, can do it alone," he said. "We're in an extremely competitive marketplace. We are working not only against Los Angeles and Southern California, but New Orleans, the East Coast and Canada and the Northwest, China, Europe, the whole world."

D'Alessandro said the San Francisco Bureau strives to work regionally with the Tri-Valley, Napa, Sonoma, Lake Tahoe, Monterey, Carmel and the Central Valley because most tourists don't travel to one county, but rather a region.

Saddled with one of the worst economic downturns in generations, D'Alessandro said a turnaround isn't happening in the very near future.

"We have declining occupancy, lowered rates, declining revenue for our hotels," he said. "We have hotel owners with investors who are panicking. Many people think that the sky is falling."

And, he said, that's just the part of the story. As homeowners have already watched their house values decline, so will owners of commercial real estate, which is the next wave hitting right now.

But despite a dour economic outlook, there are ways business owners and the bureau can take to stay competitive, he said.

"It's no longer business as usual," he said. "We are in a time change and we can make a choice. Embrace the change and go along with it and become stronger. Change to the adapting marketplace, consumer."

This year, the San Francisco bureau celebrates its 100th anniversary, forming just three years after the devastating 1906 earthquake. This year, D'Alessandro said the bureau has made staff changes, marketed differently via social networking sites and taken a new approach to partnerships and its members.

"We know that you have to market aggressively in a down time," he said. "The worst thing that you can do is back off and say you're afraid."

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