Napa, Sonoma counties benefit from bicycle tourists — part of millions spent on outdoor rec
Cycling, always a bit under the radar as a tourism draw in Napa and Sonoma counties, is starting to get some traction.
The Sonoma County Economic Development Board has formed a 12-member Outdoor Recreation Business Council, which allows participants, including Petaluma-based hydration manufacturer Camelbak and Santa Rosa-based cycling events company Bike Monkey, to discuss emerging opportunities for the industry. This Council oversees different activities regarding the economic benefits of the industry, including the Sonoma County EDB's publication of a quarterly newsletter for outdoor recreation businesses called 'Outdoor Sonoma Business Newsletter.'
Christine Palmer, program manager at the Sonoma County Economic Development Board (EDB), said he Sonoma County EDB has also declared May to be Outdoor Recreation month and last year published an Outdoor Recreation Economic Impact Report. In addition, the Sonoma County EDB also created a marketing video that features local outdoor recreation business services, products, and physical sites utilized by local tourism groups.
'This is our chance to spotlight it and market it, particularly with events like Levi's GranFondo and Ironman Santa Rosa. The economic impact from 2018's Ironman alone was $2.8 million,' said Palmer.
Tina Luster, communications manager for Sonoma County Tourism, said Sonoma County currently lacks a way to track where out-of-area cyclists come from.
'Overall, however, there's a trend for people to be more active on vacations. We're focusing on marketing destinations like the Joe Rodota Trail (an 8.5-mile paved offroad trail that links Santa Rosa to Sebastopol)' and the West County Trail, a 5.5-mile paved offroad trail that links Sebastopol to Forestville, said Luster.
She added that Sonoma County Tourism wants visitors to see what the destinations have to offer. 'We know that more of our tour companies are offering an interactive experience for visitors, not just the opportunity to rent a bike,' said Luster.
Patrick Band, executive director of the Napa County Bicycle Coalition, said Napa and Sonoma counties have some similarities. One is that both are tourism destinations because of the wine industry.
'There are a few key differences, like the Sonoma Coast shoreline, but both Napa and Sonoma counties are benefitting from bicycle tourism. Napa County used to have a peak for tourism around harvest. In recent years (it has) seen a significant number of outdoor visitors throughout (the) year. The overall number of people riding on our roads is increasing, in part due to Gran Fondo-type fundraising rides. Often, individuals who come to ride will extend their stays to do wine tasting,' said Band.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE IN NAPA COUNTY
Band said Napa hotels are encouraging cycling tourism by providing opportunities for visitors to take short trips by bike instead of by car. A number of Napa hotels encourage visitors to leave their car in an on-site parking garage or lot. They also offer loaner bikes and helmets.
Philip Sales, executive director of the Napa Valley Vine Trail, said the Trail works with several events to draw out-of-area visitors. The 12.5 mile-Vine Trail currently extends from Yountville to South Napa.
'Out-of-area visitors visit Napa to ride on the Vine Trail for the Napa-to-Sonoma Wine Country Half Marathon in July, CampoVelo in April, the Cycle for Sight bike ride in April, and the Napa Valley Resolution Run in January,' said Sales.
Sales said the Vine Trail also works with concierge services and Visit Napa Valley, a local tourism promotion organization, to interest tourists in utilizing the Trail rather than city streets.
'By providing a facility like this, we attract a demographic that otherwise would be nervous about getting on a bike and traveling up valley. We surveyed almost 2,000 riders over four blocks of time in 2018. We found most riders were very happy the Trail was here so they could get away from the car traffic,' said Sales.
Rebecca Kotch is the founder and CEO of Ride Napa Valley, an event production company focused on cycling, wellness, food and wine experiences. Kotch produces CampoVelo, Cycle for Sight, and other cycling-inclusive events, such as 2018's Rock the Ride, a ride and walk to end gun violence, said the majority of out-of-area visitors are from other regions in California.
'I would say 80 percent of participants usually come from California and 20 percent are visitors from other states. Where people come from depends on the event. CampoVelo brings in about 600 to 700 people from over 25 different states, as well as a big Canadian contingent. The average age of a participant is 48. CampoVelo is a destination event where people leave the kids at home. We see participants from Silicon Valley, Sacramento, and the East Bay, but also a large group from Orange County. For Rock the Ride, we had 500 participants, with visitors from San Francisco and the East Bay joining Napa and Sonoma locals,' said Kotch.