13 Feb 2012

Spotlight on Napa Valley Tourism Improvement District

Bigger budget raises Destination Council’s profile and importance.

From a marketing perspective, the stakes have never been higher for Napa Valley’s reputation.

More than two years after the formation of the first Tourism Improvement District (TID) in Napa County, the resulting resources to market local tourism have risen to the level of neighboring competition. The Napa Valley Destination Council’s annual budget has ballooned to around $4.5 million,
the equal of rivals Sonoma and Mendocino counties, according to Executive Director Clay Gregory.

From humble beginnings, the Destination Council has quickly grown into a powerful marketing arm for the valley on the strength of that district funding.

Additional resources bring additional pressures and responsibilities. And big spending requires closer scrutiny.

The council’s most visible success has been the nearly year-old welcome center in The Riverfront development. It’s sleek, popular and offers tourists more information on more platforms than ever before. It tells the Napa Valley story in a location that also highlights some of the best attractions the city of Napa has to offer.

But not all of what the Council does comes with such tangible results.

Detailed metrics to measure success can be hard to come by.

Overall effectiveness can — to some extent — be seen through the local economy. Recent data is positive in that regard with a 7.4 percent increase in room rates in 2011 and hotels reporting a record 43.3 percent occupancy rate in December.

How much of the credit belongs to the Destination Council is not as easy to measure. Drilling down to what exactly is working and what isn’t becomes more important as more and more money gets spent.

Some of those funds will soon be directed toward getting a better idea of who the Napa Valley tourist is, and what he/she wants from their visit. The data currently being used is from 2007. Gregory said the council is in the process of hiring a firm to establish a fresh profile of the average Napa tourist and also provide a better seasonal look at the economic impact of tourism locally. The numbers will be updated monthly.

Knowing your customer is essential and this service will better paint that picture. But effectively reaching and tracking that consumer is of equal importance.

Most of today’s digital advertising provides that accountability, and the Council has put a lot of effort behind its digital advertising push, including its iPhone application.

Despite winning a major hospitality marketing award a year ago, user reviews of the app, Visit Napa Valley, have been mixed. As of Friday, its 115 customer ratings average to a three-star (out of five) mark on iTunes.

Of positive note, Gregory said a recent usage spike on the Destination Council’s website corresponded with a story on the San Francisco Chronicle’s website.

The more the council uses digital advertising, the better the opportunity to gauge its marketing results and anticipate changes in tourism demographics.

Gregory pointed to China and Brazil as two emerging markets. Less than 10 percent of today’s Napa tourism is international, he said, but tapping into that market could be paramount to future success.

As the Destination Council has adjusted to the desires and concerns of local tourists, it has identified new areas of focus. Local arts events have become a higher priority in marketing campaigns and partnerships within the last few years. It has aligned itself and supported specific events such as Flavor! Napa Valley and the Napa Valley Film Festival, working to better highlight cultural activities in the county.

The council is still, however, not adequately representing the whole of the Napa Valley with no representative from American Canyon on its board. With some of its TID funding coming from American Canyon hotels, this needs to change.

The Council identifies public relations, group sales and direct-to-consumer initiatives as its main priorities. What makes the Destination Council’s efforts distinct from those of individual wineries, hotels or restaurants is what the Council is selling. Legendary Napa Valley is the motto used to market an experience that includes wine, food, arts, entertainment and activities.

But selling a destination doesn’t come with a receipt total. You don’t sell experience by the case unit or the room night.

Now blessed with a substantial budget, it is imperative that the marketing effort finds trackable means to quantify its own success.

Read more: NapaValleyRegister