Tourism in the state and in Sonoma County continues to remain strong, although industry experts are refining marketing strategies in response to possible repercussions to the country’s travel ban.
Sonoma County Tourism, the county’s marketing organization, hosted guest speaker Caroline Beteta, president and CEO of Visit California, the state’s travel marketing organization, and Roger Dow, U.S. Travel Association president and CEO at the County Tourism’s annual breakfast meeting April 11 at Santa Rosa’s Hyatt Vineyard Creek.
Total visitor spending in Sonoma was $1.82 billion in 2015, with $149 million in tax revenue. As a whole, California has experienced seven years of record growth, Beteta said.
With a $100 million marketing budget, California outspends every other state in the nation.
The spending pays off, as the state is the number one travel destination in the U.S., generating $126 billion in visitor spending which accounts for $10 billion in state revenue. That’s enough to fund California Highway Patrol and CalFire.
With the new federal administration, however, there is concern in the visitor industry.
“At this point we’ve got too much invested to see a downturn,” Beteta said, referring to President Trump’s travel ban and its possible repercussions for the U.S. tourism industry.
In response, Visit California will be monitoring traveler sentiment. It has also transformed its campaign slogan from ‘Living the Dream’ to ‘All Dreams Welcome’ hoping to create a “halo affect” for the state, Beteta said.
State tourism contingents will also be traveling to Mexico, Canada, Europe and Asia to meet with key media, marketers, and government officials.
“In these times of global uncertainty, we want California to be a magnet and roll out the red carpet, and create an inclusive culture,” Beteta said.
There are concerns about the fate of U.S. tourism at the national level as well.
So far, the travel ban has not had a major impact on the $2.1 trillion American travel industry, Dow said.
However, Dow, who has met with former President Obama, will meet with President Trump and other government officials in Washington D.C. next week.
“With the executive order the message was to make the country secure,” Dow said.
He would like to see the president add to that “But we welcome all of you who wish us no harm.”
To avoid a backlash, however, Trump, who owns hotels, will have to walk a fine line, Dow said.
Sonoma County Tourism also revealed future marketing plans.
“Now is the time to dare to do big things,” said Joe Bartolomei, SCT’s board chair and co-owner of the Farmhouse Inn. “After much discussion at our recent board retreat, we came up with the simple phrase, ‘Be on the bucket list.’ We want Sonoma County to be the destination that people around the world dream about coming to.”
Ken Fischang, president and CEO of SCT described a new program called “Destination NEXT.”
“It provides destination marketing organizations with practical actions and strategies for sustainable success in a dramatically changing world. We interviewed almost 100 stakeholders including partners, board members, volunteers, other business leaders, elected and government officials, and residents of Sonoma County. Our goal was to get a clear picture not only of where we are as an industry and a destination, but also where we need to go. We found opportunities to develop programs and grow our organization’s interaction with our local communities.”