Cha Cha Cha Public Art

Tom De Weerdt, right, photographs his fiance Sarah Mulhall as she dances on the public art sculpture "Cha Cha Cha" near The Riverfront in September 2013. Napa Valley tourism registered greater visitation and revenues in 2014.

Napa Valley’s wine country tourism good times continue to roll.

Visit Napa Valley delivered its annual report to the county Board of Supervisors last week. The tourism marketing organization spends about $6 million annually promoting Napa Valley.

Lodging revenues for the 12 months ending in June rose 8 percent over the previous year to $334.6 million, Visit Napa Valley CEO Clay Gregory said. This happened despite the Aug. 24, 2014 South Napa earthquake.

Tourists stayed a total of 5.5 million days in 2014, with one person staying overnight counting as two days. That compares to 4.7 million visitor days in 2005. The total number of visitors grew from 2.94 million in 2012 to 3.3 million in 2014.

Some people fear that Napa Valley is becoming a traffic-congested tourist trap, but Gregory said Visit Napa Valley doesn’t seek to make the busiest visitor days of the year even busier.

“We spend virtually no money on trying to bring people in during (peak) season or on weekends,” Gregory said. “We just don’t need to do that.”

He called mid-fall to early spring “Cabernet Season.” His organization is trying to sell it as a time when the pace is slower, when visitors can meet winemakers and book an entire day at a spa.

Gregory sees tourism increases as being manageable at less than 2 percent annually.

“The idea that’s coming up that tourism is rampantly taking over the world here in Napa Valley is not true,” Gregory said.

A survey asked 1,848 visitors how to enhance the Napa Valley experience. Among the results: more than 30 percent said it is great as it is, 4.9 percent said add more wine and wineries and 4.8 percent said alleviate the traffic.

Gregory speculated that the “more wine” answer might be sarcastic, prompting laughs from supervisors.

Visit Napa Valley wants valley tourism to have as good a name among the locals as it apparently does among the visitors. To that end, it is launching a “Tourism Matters” campaign.

Gregory talked about the transient occupancy tax money generated by hotel visits that goes into the coffers of local governments. For example, the city of Napa in 2014-15 received $15.1 million, or 20 percent of its budget. American Canyon received $1.2 million or 8 percent of its budget.

Yountville had the highest percent of its budget come from a transient occupancy tax among California cities, Gregory said. It received $6.3 million or 66 percent of its budget from the tax.

“It’s super important for the whole county,” he said.

Tourism generates jobs and brings in transient occupancy tax money for such efforts as Napa River restoration and the Napa Valley Vine Trail, Gregory said. It brings more restaurants and performing arts centers.

Gregory shared some of the Napa Valley advertising with the Board of Supervisors. He said the ads are unusual for destination marketing in that they have photographs of restaurants and vistas, none with people in them.

“They let people sort of imagine themselves in the ad, as opposed to looking at somebody who doesn’t look like them,” he said. “They’re clever and they’re funny. They’re not haughty. They don’t make the Napa Valley look stuffy.”

Then supervisors gave their comments.

“I think the way tourism grew in our valley was remarkable,” Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza said. “But I think at a certain point, our lens should be, ‘How do we live within the means of what we have?’”

Gregory said Visit Napa Valley is doing a study on lodging capacity for the Napa Valley. Consultants will look at how many rooms Napa Valley needs.

“They’ll give us some data that says, ‘More rooms than this are not going to survive because of traffic or lack of access or whatever,’ ” Gregory said.

In 2010, Napa County added a 2 percent assessment to lodging room fees to promote tourism through the Napa Valley Tourism Improvement District. The county contracts with Visit Napa Valley to promote tourism with assessment money that comes to an estimated $5 million annually.

On Nov. 3, the Board of Supervisors approved renewing the county’s contract with Visit Napa Valley. The contract can be renewed or canceled at the end of every year.

Resident Geoff Ellsworth suggested the county put more thought into the tourism issue.

“I just feel a program like this needs to be more fully analyzed for impacts to residents and the environment,” Ellsworth said. “I liken it to somebody having a party and inviting the whole world.”

Resident Doreen Leighton said the county should have sought voter approval to form the tourism improvement district.

“It is putting the burden on the community without its consent,” she said.

But supervisors see value in the tourism improvement district and Visit Napa Valley.

“This is more about visitor management, rather than just letting things happen,” Supervisor Mark Luce said.

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He has worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield.

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