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North American wine tourism event expected to draw 300 attendeesNAPA -- The Napa Valley Destination Council will host the first North American Wine Tourism Conference, an event aimed at highlighting trends and issues affecting stakeholders within the wine tourism industry in established and emerging wine destinations.

The conference, set for Nov. 16 and 17 at the Napa Valley Marriot Hotel & Spa, is being organized by Zephyr Adventures, which specializes in adventure travel tours and organizes numerous conferences for the wine and beer industries, and MartinCalder Productions, an event management company.

The conference is expected to draw approximately 300 national and international tourism representatives, according to organizers. It will include numerous partners, among them Sonoma State University’s Wine Business Institute and Wine Institute, which will lead panel discussions on the wine tourism and marketing industries.

Ray Johnson, director of SSU’s Wine Business Institute, said the conference will help unify much of the wine and tourism sectors.

“I think it will really help shine a light on the fact that people need to work together,” he said.

“Today it’s less about competing with my neighbor one county over. It’s more of a unified scene,” he added, noting the North Coast region as a whole benefits from each county’s success.

Caroline Beteta, president and chief executive officer of the California Travel and Tourism Commission, will be the conference presenter.

It’s the second major event the Destination Council will help coordinate in November, as the Flavor Napa Valley food and wine festival will be taking place in St. Helena within the same timeframe. It’s also another example of how the Destination Council’s capabilities to promote the Napa Valley have been significantly bolstered by last year’s tourism business improvement district, said Allison Simpson, a spokeswoman for the Destination Council.

“We went from an organization of two people to about 10 people,” which in turn has given the organization more power to coordinate star-studded draws to Napa Valley, she said.

The TBID was approved by the Napa County Board of Supervisors last year. It’s a 2 percent assessment on visitors’ hotel rooms that is expected to generate approximately $4 million annually. The money is in turn used to market the entire region by the Destination Council, which had a comparatively anemic annual budget of $437,000 before the TBID was approved.

“All we needed to do was share the word a bit more actively,” Ms. Simpson said of the recent efforts and events. “We have all the things there; it’s just a matter of getting it out to everyone.”

The Flavor Napa Valley festival, which will feature scores of local and international celebrity chefs, and the recent re-opening of Napa’s visitors’ center on the Riverfront are other examples of the TBID at work, Ms. Simpson said.

Allan Wright, owner of Zephyr Adventures and co-organizer of the event, said the conference will serve as a useful tool for those within the wine tourism market, which includes hotels, tour guides, caterers and restaurants, among others.

“Our goal is to serve as a resource for the wine community where industry stakeholders have an opportunity to learn, share and grow,” he said.

Wine tourism is increasingly being sought out by travelers. The U.S. Travel Association estimates that 17 percent, or 27.3 million people, have engaged in “culinary or wine-related activities while traveling.” Accordingly, wine regions should be aware of trends that could impact their market share of those travelers, said Elizabeth Martin-Calder, owner of MartinCalder Productions.

“Wine regions are focused on creating attractive destinations that feature a mix of wineries, tasting rooms, conference services and other entertainment attractions,” she said.

Napa was chosen as the destination of the first wine tourism conference because of its long-standing history as a wine-producing and tourism region, organizers said.

“We are thrilled that Napa Valley was selected to host the inaugural conference,” said Clay Gregory, chief executive officer of the Destination Council. “We look forward to sharing our experiences with those in attendance, while also expanding our knowledge and understanding of this cultural travel phenomenon.”

The Napa Valley Vintners Association will assist the Destination Council in hosting the conference. Other sponsors include the Sonoma County Tourism Bureau, Sonoma County Vintners, Sonoma County Winegrape Commission and the Wine Bloggers Conference.

More information on the conference can be found at www.winetourismconference.org.