Grant Raeside has been executive director of the Tri-Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau for just six months but he's already moved aggressively and successfully in promoting the region.
Last week, the organization worked with the San Francisco Examiner to produce an eight-page special section promoting the Tri-Valley. In San Jose, the CVB is running 1,500 30-second spots on local portions of the Travel and Food networks. In July, it will sponsor a 12-page promotional section in the San Francisco Chronicle. Raeside also plans local promotions, but for now his goal is to sell the Tri-Valley to those who don't know much about us, and to build the Valley's image as a preferred meeting, event and tourism destination.
It's already happening to some extent. Raeside told members of the Valley Real Estate Network earlier this month that there's been a 6.5% increase in the occupancy rate of the Tri-Valley's 38 hotels with Danville's one hotel, the Best Western, leading the way at 85% occupancy. The increase is greater than the post-recession rates reported by San Jose, Oakland and even the wine country areas of Napa and Sonoma. In terms of increased occupancy rates in the last six months, the Valley is second only to San Francisco.
But those represent occupied hotel rooms during the business weekdays of Sunday through Thursday nights. Hotel parking lots on Friday and Saturday nights are often empty after the restaurants and bars have closed with too few rooms filled overnight. Raeside hopes to change that with promotional campaigns, special weekend discounts coupons and corporate-sponsored programs that urge those who travel here on business to bring their spouses and stay an extra night.
The CVB is spending $500,000 on that campaign with 100,000 copies of a new Visitors' Guide that is being sent outside the area, even outside California, to travel agencies and corporate travel planners responsible for upcoming meetings. It is also launching a major campaign Sept. 1 with an advertising insert in the San Francisco Business Times promoting the "stay an extra day" push. Special wine, romance and golf promotions also are being planned with restaurants and hotels that will include entertainment and shopping discount packages.
Even the organization may have a name change. Raeside told Realtors that with limited space for conventions, the CVB should really focus on making the Tri-Valley a destination for visitors where weekend room rates go for under $100, compared to a low of $175 in San Francisco. With incredible wineries, golf courses, hiking trails, unmatched vistas of Mount Diablo and historic downtowns, business people and their spouses can take a relaxing break from travel and work, all to the advantage of retailers here. His choice for a new name, which he'll take to the CVB board shortly: the Tri-Valley Destination Council.
The CVB is funded by the Tourism Service Improvement District, a special joint-powers agency set up by the cities of Danville, Dublin, Livermore, Pleasanton and San Ramon. Hotel guests pay a $2 tourist assessment fee when they check out, with the annual "contribution" now totaling $2 million annually. Recently, the San Ramon City Council complained that its hotels, namely the San Ramon Marriott, were paying far more into the CVB assessment than San Ramon was benefiting. Raeside hopes to change that to San Ramon's satisfaction before his three-year contract runs out.
As the CVB's new leader, Raeside brings a proven track record of more than 30 years in sales and marketing to the organization. He led marketing efforts with the Atlanta Downtown Partnership during the 1996 Summer Olympics games and most recently led the San Luis Obispo and Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers to record-breaking years of visitors. He also knows the media, having anchored his own radio show, written columns for local newspapers, and has appeared on local TV numerous times to support the organizations he represented.
Also on the CVB staff now is Tim Toonen, director of marketing and branding, who has 20 years of experience in creating promotions for Marriott, Doubletree, Sony Music and Village Voice Media. Geoff Sarabia-Mason, vice president of tourism sales and development, has 30 years of industry experience. Jamila Qayum is the CVB's tourism relations manager, moving there from the Pleasanton Marriott where she was an account executive specializing in corporate and government sales. Rachel Christie Simmons, CVB's public relations and communications manager for the last two years, has PR agency experience with restaurants, nonprofits and in the entertainment field.