Central Valley Cities Continue to See Increase in Tourism

By Patricia Reynolds
Business Journal Writer

June 22, 2017

STOCKTON — California’s travel and tourism industry enjoyed a seventh consecutive year of growth in 2016, according to the annual economic impact report released by Visit California and Dean Runyan Associates.

The May 4, 2017 report states that tourism generated $10.3 billion in tax revenue and supported 1.1 million jobs during 2016, reflecting a 3.2 percent growth in traveler spending.

Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties contributed to these figures, and as the peak summer travel season approaches, Central Valley communities expect to continue attracting visitors with sights and scenes unique to the area.

“We see a lot of our visitors checking out the Haggin Museum and the Stockton Cambodian Buddhist Temple, or just shopping and dining in the Lincoln Center and the Miracle Mile,” said Robyn Cheshire, Director of Marketing and Communications for Visit Stockton. “We also know that the water is a big lure for visitors regionally as they explore the Delta and enjoy its recreational opportunities in the summer months.”

According to Cheshire, Stockton is a drive market, drawing many visitors from within a 100-mile radius, particularly from the Bay Area and Sacramento.
Still, travelers from all over the state stop in as well.

“Being on the I-5 corridor, we also see visitors from up north and from Southern California.”

During the peak summer season, Stockton hosts more festivals, sporting events and other activities than other times of the year, and Visit Stockton markets via social media outlets where blog content is targeted at promoting Stockton experiences.

“Our most popular blogs emphasize on family fun, sports, arts and culture and agriculture,” Cheshire said. “We also target potential travelers on other digital channels where they are looking for something to do in the region.”

A bit further North, Lodi’s wine industry is a key attraction to the area.

“Lodi is known as a wine country destination, and visitors travel from all over the United States and beyond to visit our wineries and attend our events,” said Nancy Beckman, President and CEO of Visit Lodi! Conference and Visitors Bureau.

About 60 percent of Lodi’s Downtown Visitor Center guests are from California, with the largest number of overnight visitors being from the Bay Area and Los Angeles regions.

A sizeable amount of visitors, 40 percent, do travel to Lodi from out of state with roughly 10 percent being international travelers.

“Visit Lodi! advertises heavily in the spring and early summer months to capture the potential visitor in their vacation planning cycles. Also, we feature summer attractions and fun activities in blogs and on social media,” Beckman said.

Vacationers sampling Lodi’s 85 wineries have reported that while in the area, they also enjoy recreational activities such as kayaking, paddling and cycling along with visiting the area’s nature preserves, parks and downtown entertainment.

Hotels see an uptick in business during the summer season as well.

“It is not uncommon for lodging facilities to see a 10-20 percent jump in occupancy during the summer months over the first quarter of the year,” Beckman said.
The establishment of Lodi as a notable California wine region has helped boost tourism in the Lodi area. An economic study of the impact the winegrape and wine industry has had to the immediate area is in process, but the growth in tourism is expected to be positive.

“What I can say now is that the number has definitely increased the past few years,” said Wendy Brannen, Executive Director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission.
Wineries in Lodi, typically situated in clusters, tend to work together to increase traffic pull and will refer tasters from one winery to the next.

“It’s very common as you are leaving one tasting room for the staff or owners there to direct you to their neighbors down the way,” Brannen said.

Lodi wineries do not consider themselves as competing with the Napa and Sonoma wine regions for visitors. Instead, they consider the comparison as one of apples to oranges.

“The experiences are so different, and there is plenty of room in the California wine scene for all of us,” Brannen said. “We offer a very personal experience, and many times the people pouring your wines are the winery owners, and very realistically could be growing the grapes too.”
In Modesto, a proximity to rivers and lakes and the associated water recreation and camping opportunities they provide, along with the area’s agricultural richness draws visitors.

“We also have, and this is very seasonal, but we have a couple you-pick farms which have literally exploded,” said Jennifer Mullen, Executive Director at Modesto Convention and Visitors Bureau. “People really want that hands-on, ‘Oh my gosh, I picked it myself’ kind of experience.”

Ott Farms is one such operation giving visitors the opportunity to hand-pick cherries and blueberries.

Still, the biggest summertime draw is Graffiti Summer, a celebration which recognizes Modesto’s cruising heritage as depicted in George Lucas’s film, American Graffiti.

“We get thousands and thousands of people in town because they want to experience something to do with American Graffiti, the movie,” Mullen said.
Along with viewing the Graffiti car parade and car show, visitors can take a 1.5-mile walking tour downtown that features 25 information kiosks.
As part of that tour, visitors can now enjoy the walk of fame, a two-block area, and growing, that currently features 18 embedded stars with the names of those influential in Modesto’s cruising car culture.

“That’s all focused on what we’re so well-known for, our signature events which are the classic car shows, the hot rods, the music,” Mullen said.