Napa County supervisors focused on that important figure who generates mixed feelings among some residents by bringing economy-boosting money and road-clogging traffic – the tourist.
Wineries say they need tourists to survive financially. The county and its cities lean heavily on the hotel tax money generated by tourists. Some residents worry the wooed quest is causing agricultural areas to become too commercialized.
With 3.5 million people coming to the area in 2016 to spend $1.9 billion, tourists are hard to ignore. By comparison, the county had 3.3 million visitors spending $1.6 billion in 2014.
“From our standpoint, that’s a really good, sustainable rate of increase,” Visit Napa Valley CEO Clay Gregory said. “It’s not what some people would call ‘binge tourism.’”
The Napa County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday heard a presentation from Visit Napa Valley on the group’s previously released 2016 visitor profile and 2016 economic impact report.
Napa Valley has no tourist-counting turnstiles at its entrances. Still, consulting firm Destination Analysts, Inc. took data from hotels, surveys and other sources to come up with that estimate of 3.5 million visitors in 2016.
By comparison, Death Valley had 1.2 million visitors, Point Reyes 2.4 million, Yosemite 5 million and San Francisco 25 million. Some critics say Napa is becoming an agricultural Disneyland, but the valley fell far short of the real Disneyland’s attendance of 18 million.
If a 2005 study is to be believed, today’s Napa Valley’s tourism is a shadow of its past self. The county in that era bragged of having 4.7 million visitors annually.
Is Napa losing the luster of yore?
Gregory said he doesn’t think so. Earlier studies tended to report visitor days, with one person staying two days counting as two visitors. That is no longer the case, he said.
Destinations Analysts drilled deeper into the tourist phenomena through a survey of 1,353 visitors at hotels and various locations.
The typical Napa Valley visitor is about 43 years old, has a college degree and has an annual household income of $161,000. About 53 percent of visitors are white, compared to 65 percent in 2012, an indication that diversity is increasing.
About 49 percent of visitors in 2016 came for a vacation and 28 percent for a weekend getaway, with the rest here mostly for business travel or special events.
No surprise – the study found tourists come to Napa Valley to taste wine and eat. About 73 percent of those surveyed went to winery tasting rooms, 53 percent dined at restaurants and 40 percent took winery tours.
For wineries, the brass ring is for visitors to join the wine clubs that provide important revenue streams. One in five visitors said they were likely to do just that.
Yet Napa Valley apparently needs views as well as wineries to be successful. It’s a virtual tie for what visitors surveyed liked most about the region, with 24.1 percent saying the wine and tastings and 23.8 percent saying the countryside and scenery.
“It’s one of the reasons Visit Napa Valley is so pro-ag preserve,” Gregory said. “If (Napa Valley) did not have that scenery, it would not be the destination it is.”
Visitors surveyed also found non-winery-related activities in wine country. About 36 percent shopped, 14 percent rode the Napa Valley Wine Train, 9 percent went to art galleries, 9 percent enjoyed the night life, 8 percent visited a state or local park, 6 percent hiked, 4 percent biked, 3 percent rode in a hot-air balloon, 2 percent golfed and 1 percent canoed or kayaked.
The city of Napa apparently no longer has to worry about tourists blowing by as they take Highway 29 to Upvalley wineries. With the Oxbow district and redeveloping downtown, the city has become a premiere destination.
Almost 69 percent of visitors went to the city of Napa, 50 percent to St. Helena, 33 percent to Yountville, 31 percent to Calistoga, 23 percent to Rutherford, 23 percent to Oakville, 13 percent to American Canyon, 10 percent to the Carneros region, 8 percent to Lake Berryessa and 5 percent to Angwin, statistics show.
Visitors moved around Napa Valley mostly in cars. The study found 44 percent drove their personal automobiles and 41 percent drove rent-a-cars, though 10 percent walked for transportation at some point during their visit, 3 percent took the bus and 2 percent took a limousine.
About 65 percent of visitors came for only one day. Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza would like to convince more day-trippers to stay overnight for traffic reasons, given day trippers tend to arrive in the morning and leave in the evenings.
“They are hitting our traffic peak times at the worst times,” he said.
Gregory mentioned another reason to promote multi-day visits. A travel party of day-trippers spent an average of $357 per day and a travel party of hotel guests spent $840.
Four in 10 visitors surveyed said nothing would make Napa Valley better, meaning it is perfect as is. For the rest, the number-one specific, wished-for improvement, at 12 percent, was alleviating traffic.
Pedroza said residents ask how tourism benefits them. He pointed to the $80.4 million in tax revenue generated for the county and its cities through the hotel tax, hotel property taxes and tourist-related sales taxes, money that they can spend on public safety and other services.
“The more you can share that and tell that story – that’s important,” he told Gregory.
Gregory said tourism also allows Napa County to have such things as an array of restaurants and three performing arts centers.
“It’s not just the economic, it’s also lifestyle,” he said.
Supervisor Ryan Gregory mentioned talking to some tourists in San Francisco. They were also going to Yosemite—and Napa Valley.
That puts Napa Valley in some heady California tourism company.