A panel discussion held last week in Pleasanton presented a look into how the city and the other Tri-Valley communities can better attract overnight tourism and extended visitor stays in the area.
The event was hosted by Visit Tri-Valley, an organization funded by the cities of Pleasanton, Danville, San Ramon, Dublin and Livermore as well as by $1 a night room fees added to the bills of hotel and motel guests in those cities. The organization plans to change it name to Tri-Valley Tourism Marketing District, to better reflect what it does.
The event brought four marketing professionals together to discuss how shopping, hospitality and the arts can make an impact on attracting visitors to the area, encouraging overnight stays and compelling them to return in the future.
The panelists were Lisa Hasenbalg, San Francisco Travel Association's senior director of arts and culture strategy, Tracey Wickersham, director of cultural tourism for Visit Seattle, and Dave Ackerman, director of marketing and business development for the newly renamed San Francisco Premium Outlets of Livermore.
Visit Tri-Valley President, Barbara Steinfeld moderated the discussion.
One of the key topics addressed by the panel was the emphasis on the "heads in beds" concept which is a term for driving tourism to the hotels for an extended stay. Cultural tourism, which consists of combining the performing arts, visual arts and heritage of a region is often used as the focus or "hook" for getting visitors to stay overnight, according to Steinfeld.
According to Wickersham, Seattle targets cultural visitors because statistically they are more active travelers who tend to stay longer in the places they are visiting which translates to spending more money there as well. Cultural tourists are also "desirable travelers" because they are typically less susceptible to recession and economic downturn.
Seattle has several art organizations and galleries along with the city's attractions in connection to Native American and aviation history, which makes the region align closely with the traveling experience that cultural tourists look for.
By comparison, the Tri-Valley has the wine country, active and historic downtowns and retail centers as well as many fine-dining locations.
There's also the abundant local performing and visual arts venues such as Pleasanton's Firehouse and Arts Center, where the panel discussion was held, the Bankhead Theater in Livermore, and the Village Theater and Art Gallery in Danville.
According to Steinfeld, there are many travelers who enter the area for "day-trips" but the Tri-Valley communities are trying to extend those visits by more actively targeting cultural tourists.
Retail is another element of cultural tourism, Steinfeld said, because in addition to attending arts related events, travelers also want to experience the local shopping in the places they visit.
Earlier this month, the Livermore Premium Outlets was renamed as the San Francisco Premium Outlets. The decision was made due in large part to making a stronger connection between the Livermore-based shopping center and the larger, metropolitan area more known to travelers, according to Ackerman.
"Probably about 65-70% of the visitors who we see at the property are international tourists whose destination is San Francisco," Ackerman said. "In their minds coming from places like China or Brazil or South Korea, Livermore is simply a suburb of San Francisco that is close by considering the distance they've traveled to be here."
The panelists noted that the strategy is used throughout the country such as with the Seattle Premium Outlets, which are actually located in Tulalip, Washington and the Philadelphia Premium Outlets in Limerick, Pennsylvania.
Another common approach outlined during the nearly two-hour panel discussion was the concept of partnership targeted marketing which involves integrating tourist attractions and events into the entire community to encourage visitors to see and do more in the area as well as bring in revenue for all of the surrounding businesses and facilities.
During Seattle's eight month display of the King Tutankhamen exhibit, the city launched a large promotional campaign that included exclusive VIP ticket packages only offered through hotels, which provided undated and untimed tickets to the exhibit, according to Wickersham. A part of the program was a "pharaoh's gold card" which people received upon purchasing tickets to the exhibit and the card was good for various restaurant, shopping and attraction discounts.
The Pacific Science Center, where the exhibit was displayed, was able to sell 700,000 tickets and 50% of those were purchased by people residing in places outside of Seattle, Wickersham said.
San Francisco's light-arts campaign used a similar method to promote the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge light display and other light installations and activities throughout the city during the holiday season, Hasenbalg said.
As part of the campaign Hasenbalg and the travel association put together a press release and distributed it to bus, boat, and segue tour operators. These efforts resulted in increased attendance and ticket sales on boat tours after dusk. The restaurants located along The Embarcadero also saw an increase in patrons as a result of the campaign.
Hasenbalg and Wickersham noted that the Tri-Valley could benefit from using a similar approach to promote its attractions.
Toward the end of the panel discussion, Hasenbalg offered some advice for ways the Tri-Valley can better market itself as a tourist destination. She suggested making sure that city websites include the "who, what, when, where and why" so travelers can establish a purpose for their visit. This marketing effort should promote what is "authentic" to the destination, making it clear how people can get around the area with or without a car, and tuning into visitor feedback on social media and other outlets.