Napa, Sonoma counties benefit from bicycle tourists — part of millions spent on outdoor rec

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Sonoma County outdoor recreation by the numbers

$731 million: Economic impact

4,530: Full-time equivalent jobs

Top three rated niche market opportunities (2017, excludes wine)

Culinary tourism: 70%

Craft beer: 65%

Cycling: 52%

Source: 2018 Outdoor Recreation Economic Impact Report, Sonoma County Economic Development Board

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.

Sonoma County outdoor recreation by the numbers

$731 million: Economic impact

4,530: Full-time equivalent jobs

Top three rated niche market opportunities (2017, excludes wine)

Culinary tourism: 70%

Craft beer: 65%

Cycling: 52%

Source: 2018 Outdoor Recreation Economic Impact Report, Sonoma County Economic Development Board

“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.

Linzi Gay, general manager of Clif Family Winery in St. Helena, said wineries can benefit from cycling tourism by welcoming riders and their interest in local scenery.

“Food, wine, and cycling are kind of our motto. That’s because Gary Erickson and Kit Crawford, the co-CEOs of Clif Energy Bars, are the founders of the winery,” said Gay.

Gay said the Clif Family Winery encourages visitors to get a coffee from the tasting room’s espresso machine, follow one of eight different routes laid out by the winery’s founders, such as a trip up to Howell or Spring Mountain, and return for lunch from the winery’s Bruschetteria food truck.

“We partner with Calistoga Bikeshop to offer cycling packages. Our routes keep people off Highway 29, and our tasting room has a cycling motif,” said Gay.

COMPANIES EXPLAIN THEIR SUCCESS

Frieda Lewis, CEO of Ace It Bike Tours, which is based in Windsor in Sonoma County, said location and partnerships keep her bike tours vibrant.

“We have a bike center in downtown Windsor and offer several tours in Sonoma County. Being really close to the Santa Rosa airport is a plus. One of our tours is the Healdsburg Cycling Wine Tour, where we visit J Winery, Rodney Strong, Limerick, and Mutt Lynch. Another is the Windsor Bike ‘N Brew Tour where we bike on beautiful country roads. (We) visit the new Russian River Brewery. (For the) Santa Rosa Bike N’Brew tour…we ride from Hopmonk in Sebastopol to Russian River Brewing Company in downtown Santa Rosa,”

Lewis is a member of the Windsor Chamber of Commerce, the Healdsburg Chamber of Commerce, the Bodega Bay Chamber of Commerce, the Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau, and the San Francisco Travel Association.

“I go on a continual basis to meetings and networking events to see what we can do to increase awareness about cycling tourism. I also hold mixers at our bike center where I invite people from all the Chambers of Commerce to get to know one another,” said Lewis.

Lewis said she sees more out-of-state visitors in the summer. In the fall and winter, she sees more tourists from other parts of California.

Hunt Bailie, owner of Sonoma Adventures Tours & Rentals, said his customers tend to range in age between their 40s and 60s. Many visitors are from out of state. There are year-round Bay Area day-trippers.

“We start the tour in downtown Sonoma and travel between 10 and 17 miles outside that area. Typically, our guests will visit two or three wineries, stop, have lunch, and enjoy a cheese tasting,” said Bailie.

Bailie said one of the keys to customer satisfaction is not taking riders into the hills.

“The area is pretty flat, with a few exceptions. We try not to pedal up any excessive hills,” said Bailie.

Randy Johnson, CEO of Getaway Adventures, a bike tour company based in Santa Rosa, said many cycling tourists “don’t want to do anything too radical.”

“Wine is a good way to put a tour together. Calistoga is our number one trip, with Healdsburg coming second and Carneros being third. We have tourists come from all over. Probably close to half of the “day trippers” are from the East Bay, South Bay, and San Francisco,” said Johnson.

Johnson, who started Getaway Adventures in 1991, said in both counties, people like the weather, the scenic landscape, and that locals are friendly and welcoming.

“They’re excited to taste world-class wine. They love tours with a local guide who can be a resource for them,” said Johnson.

Johnson said his customers usually visit between two and five wineries on a five-hour tour.

“We have two main types of tours, the Sip N’Cycle Tour and the Velo N’Vino Tour. The Sip N’Cycle is slower-paced. The Velo N’Vino is for people who want to be very physically active. On both tours, we encourage riders to drink a lot of water and experiment with wine, not drink it,” said Johnson.

Johnson said he sees a great deal of potential for cycling tourism in wine country if Napa and Sonoma counties push to encourage riders to avoid auto traffic.

“It will help to develop more dedicated, stand-alone bike paths like the Napa Valley Vine Trail. We can also motivate riders to travel on quieter roads and country lanes.”

People want to be physically active. Cycling and outdoor recreation in general have become great reasons to come out and enjoy wine.”

CORRECTION: Quotes attributed to Patrick Band, executive director of the Napa County Bicycle Coalition, in this story have been changed after he stated he was misquoted.

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