Love it or hate it, tourism is essential to our economy, and it has to be promoted and managed in a strategic, data-driven way.
That’s the role of Visit Napa Valley (VNV or Visit) and its CEO, Linsey Gallagher.
Fueled by the Tourism Improvement District that hotels charge their own guests, Visit uses targeted marketing to attract the sorts of tourists who are most likely to boost the valley’s economy without overwhelming its infrastructure.
That means focusing on weekdays and the “Cabernet season” between November and March, since tourists hardly need to be encouraged to visit on a summer weekend. It also means prioritizing overnight guests, who generate 70% of the $2.23 billion in annual sales from tourism, over day-trippers, who only generate 30%.
Generally speaking, that strategy has worked. The number of overnight guests grew 2.5 times as much as the number of day-trippers since 2016, while direct visitor spending has grown at twice the rate of the number of visitors. That means the valley is getting the most bang for its tourist buck.
St. Helena, however, hasn’t gotten its fair share of that success. We simply lack the number of hotel rooms necessary to accommodate those high-spending overnight guests. That means more traffic from day-trippers and tourists from neighboring towns, and less tourism revenue at St. Helena restaurants and stores.
The Napa Valley hospitality industry — including lodging, restaurants and retail — supports 15,872 jobs, according to the group’s 2018 Visitor Profile Study and Economic Impact Report. To our surprise given the amount of rush hour traffic in and out of the county, fewer than 20% of those workers commute from outside the county.
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The data compiled by Visit doesn’t just help promote tourism. It helps us draw an accurate picture of our economy, and it should help local officials craft policies accordingly.
Gallagher understands that link between tourism and local issues like traffic and housing. She said Visit, along with the Napa Valley Vintners, are contributing to a pilot project to provide incentives to carpool during peak congestion hours. Visit also endorsed a slate of local hotel tax measures last November to raise money for affordable housing. The measures passed everywhere except in American Canyon.
Those efforts demonstrate that Visit Napa Valley appreciates the value of sustainable economies and vibrant communities – after all, that’s part of why tourists want to come here in the first place. Gallagher talked about working with communities to strike the right balance concerning tourism, and ensuring that residents benefit from tourism, which generates $85.1 million in tax revenue for local services.
Gallagher also talked about attracting younger tourists to the Napa Valley. Wealthy older folks who can afford a $1,000-a-night hotel room and dinner at the French Laundry are as desirable and lucrative as ever, but Visit is also using social media to reach millennials who possess slightly different values and seek a lower price point.
Younger tourists are looking for unique experiences, Instagrammable scenic vistas and authentic, hand-crafted products. The Napa Valley has all that in spades, but competing wine regions like Sonoma and even Lodi have done a better job promoting themselves as such. Gallagher wants to change that.
Local tax revenue, traffic, workforce housing, visitor demographics – these are issues that should concern all of us, not just the hotel industry.
How convenient it is, then, that Visit Napa Valley is there to work with us.