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[caption id="attachment_15876" align="alignright" width="216" caption="Napa will be the first to launch the “visitmobile” tool developed by 20-year tourism marketing veteran YPartnership of Orlando and tech developers Dizgo of Boulder, Colo. "][/caption]

NAPA COUNTY – After unwinding the structure last year, the Napa Valley Destination Council is returning to a membership platform, and officials hired a consultant to explore development of a business improvement district to fund its future.

“In retrospect, it’s a shame the announcement during reorganization last year said we wouldn’t be membership-based. What really should have been said is we wouldn’t have a dues-based structure anymore,” said recently appointed President and Chief Executive Officer Clay Gregory.

“In August, what we decided to do was introduce a flexible membership hierarchy, where any visitor-serving business is listed on the Web site and in the guide for free, but then if they choose to be featured or have advanced communication abilities and things like that, they pay $600 a year on up to the founders circle level at $10,000.”

In October 2008, the Napa Valley Visitors and Conference Bureau was reborn as the Napa Valley Destination Council. Since then, the group’s greatest obstacle has been finding a lasting funding structure. Some cities and the county have provided transient occupancy tax dollars, but ultimately the group wanted to create something more sustainable.

Last week, the council hired a consultant to help launch a business improvement district, which asks certain sectors, usually hotels, to agree to tax themselves to fund the tourism bureau. The model is a widely used funding source for tourism and visitors bureaus, and the council hopes to launch the Napa version by July 1.

“This would give us much more in the way of meaningful funding. A lot of our initial work following the reorganization was focused on getting the support of our county partners, and I think we have been really successful on that end,” he said.

The addition of Mr. Gregory in July in itself likely garnered much of the support. The wine industry veteran is a past president of the Napa Valley Vintners Association and has worked in various positions with the Robert Mondavi Co., Oakville Winegrowers and Stags Leap Winegrowers.

Also among new marketing efforts, Napa will be the first to test a unique new cell phone application created by the council’s marketing firm YPartnership and Boulder, Colo.-based tech company Dizgo. The free mobile Web site and tool gives visitors the ability sign up for specials, use an interactive map to search for the closest restaurant, winery or hotel, as well as search a complete visitor’s guide and bookmark favorites on their cell phone.

The tool will be paid for through advertisements from businesses. Hotels, restaurants, wineries and others can purchase special features and privileges on the application, though all visitor-serving businesses will still be listed at no charge. The application also allows the council to accurately measure the number of visitors on the site and track the success of specials and ads.

“It is difficult to get as much business participation without really quantitative solid results, but with this tool we can say exactly this promotion took in 'x' number of room nights or this many table reservations,” Mr. Gregory said.

The Web site is accessible from any cell phone with Internet access, but some services are only usable by iPhones. The “visitmobile” program will officially launch in January. It will be advertised on the destination council’s Web site and through local hotels, wineries and other destinations.

“This is the only tool we have found that really allows participants the ability to connect with visitors in real time, while they are in the destination, and considering Napa’s target visitors, they are very attuned to technology. ... It just seemed like a perfect marriage,” said YPartnership partner and Chief Information Officer K. Scott Myers.

The council is also developing other interactive media and Web-based marketing, including search engine optimization, Twitter, Facebook and other resources.