When Clay Gregory became president/CEO of Visit Napa Valley nine years ago, the Napa Valley tourism industry was in recession, with lodging revenues falling 17 percent from the year before.
“These were difficult times, financially and organizationally,” said George Goeggel, managing partner of Auberge du Soleil who has been involved in Visit Napa since its beginning. “But we were united in one thought – we are going to have to find a team and we need somebody to lead that effort.”
That somebody was Gregory, who helped with the creation of Tourism Business Improvement District which has raised $51 million from the lodging industry from 2010 to 2017 to promote the Napa Valley.
As one measure of its success, during that period, room revenue from Napa Valley lodging properties rose from $207 million to $396 million annually.
Without the TBID, “none of this would have happened,” Gregory said. “We just didn’t have the funds” to promote the valley.
Members of Visit Napa Valley credit the improvement district, which imposes a 2 percent assessment on hotel room rates for countywide marketing, and Gregory’s leadership for the turnabout.
Now Gregory is changing roles. He will drop the president part of his title, but remain CEO.
When he first took the job, “We had three people (on staff) and a budget of $400,000,” Gregory said. “Now we have 24 people and a budget of $7.5 million.”
“It became a great job,” he said.
At Gregory’s advice, back in June 2016, Visit Napa Valley developed long-range plans for the agency, including a succession plan for leadership, said a Visit Napa Valley statement.
“Like any organization, it has grown in scope and staff and I think it’s smart of him to introduce this role as president,” said Goeggel.
Visit Napa Valley was originally called the Napa Valley Destination Council. Back then, the agency was underfunded and faced skepticism from some members of the visitor and lodging community.
The most significant change Gregory championed was the creation of the Tourism Business Improvement District.
Beginning in 2010, the TBID added a 2 percent assessment to hotel room rates for countywide marketing efforts. Additional funding is provided through partnerships with visitor-serving businesses throughout Napa County, and through Napa County Special Projects Funding.
Before he took on that challenge, “I didn’t even know what a Tourism Business Improvement District was,” Gregory said with a laugh.
After the TBID plan was sanctioned, “From then on it was just work as hard as we could and try and put that model into place,” he said.
Seventy-five percent of the money raised by the TBID is managed by Visit Napa Valley. The remaining 25 percent is collected by the individual city jurisdictions and the county TBIDs.
Gregory has not been without his detractors. Some criticize his salary—$280,500 a year plus a potential bonus of $110,000 – as excessive.
Others question whether or not the TBID is making as much of a difference as Visit Napa Valley claims. Some have voiced concern that the funds collected should be spent on social services instead of marketing the Napa Valley.
This past June, Visit Napa Valley’s board of directors began outreach for potential candidates to fill a president position, said Angela Jackson, director of media relations for Visit Napa Valley.
“Several very qualified candidates have been presented and a decision is expected to be made before the end of the year and announced in early 2019,” said Jackson.
“Clay will remain at Visit Napa Valley as CEO to provide guidance and mentorship to the new president. He plans to celebrate his 10-year anniversary with Visit Napa Valley in June 2019,” said Jackson.
Both the president and CEO roles “will be more fully defined once the final candidate has accepted and onboarding needs are determined,” said Lisa Poppen, vice president marketing and communications at Visit Napa Valley.
Gregory spoke of many “great experiences” attending conferences around the U.S. and speaking on behalf of VNV. “Many of the these were produced by important partners such as U.S. Travel, Brand USA, Destinations International Visit California, S.F. Travel, CalTravel and dozens more,” he said.
“We have also been humbled to be invited to events that pay VNV expenses to speak about our ‘strategically managed tourism’ approach.”
No surprise, it’s a job of travel. Gregory estimated he’s flown 450,000 miles as a representative of Visit Napa Valley.
“I look forward to many miles to come,” he said.