Revisiting Visalia Tourism
Visit Visalia begins larger marketing effort as the result of a 2% district tax intended to help increase hotel stays
By Paul Myers @PaulM_SGN
VISALIA – Tulare County has been a historical pass through between the urban hubs of Los Angeles and San Francisco. But as of last Thursday, a board of Visalia hotel owners and a keenly attuned marketing firm is ready to make Visalia a destination.
Funding the marketing operations has been just over a year in the making after Visalia’s hospitality industry decided to fork over some of their own money in 2017, that has since yielded a $500,000 budget.
And as of last Thursday, March 28, the marketing arm for the community, Visit Visalia, took their half a million dollar budget and showed they are putting it to good use. Last year the Visit Visalia board decided it was time to hire AMF Media group to put a face to their City. And at last week’s unveiling, they underlined all of the features that make Visalia a destination.
Dave Cox, Vice President of Operations with AMF noted what residents here have always enjoyed: that Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Forest is Visalia’s main attraction. Visalia’s proximity to nature is the city’s version of Broadway, Grand Canyon or Niagra Falls. But as they say in their 10 part short video series, Visalia is more than a gateway community.
In an online video effort to illustrate Visalia’s best qualities, AMF partnered up with notorious Central Valley wanderer, unique blogger and defacto publicist for Visalia, Niccolo Go. Owner of the website JoaquinAround.com, Go has built a significant online presence by documenting Central Valley art and culture and sharing it with his follower on Instagram. According to Go, who had fostered a close relationship with the Visit Visalia board, when it came time to choose a note worthy ambassador for Visalia, he was the most qualified choice.
In AMF’s 10 videos that span from 30 to 90 seconds long, Go exudes a welcoming persona that captures the intention of Visalia’s best attractions. Each video highlights something new in the area, whether it is the food scene in town, the murals that populate the downtown or all of the activities available at Sequoia National Park.
Visalia Tourism Marking District Board of Directors Chair, Anil Chagan said that it is his goal to make Visalia a place where everyone wants to visit.
“We want to make Visalia one of the places to visit on everyone’s bucket list,” Chagan said.
AMF says they are trying to gather the attention of residents within the state and outside of the country. AMF noted that Visalia is particularly appealing to visitors from Southern California between the ages 35-55, and then those from European countries like France, Germany and England. Of course, international visitors are not rare. Communities like Three Rivers have been doused with culture year after year when visitors from outside the U.S. come to see the national forests.
While marketing is at the heart of growing tourism in Visalia, it took a strong initiative on the side of hoteliers to not only tax themselves, but then invest in a strategy that will hopefully grow their businesses.
In 2017 the city’s hospitality industry was asking for permission to tax themselves. Hotel operators and the Visalia Convention and Visitors Bureau asked the Visalia City Council to form a tourism marketing district (TMD) in Visalia. The district would tax lodging businesses within the city limits an annual assessment rate of 2 percent of gross short-term room receipts on non-governmental rentals of less than 30 consecutive days. The money generated by the district is used to fund marketing and sales promotion efforts to increase nightly bookings by touting Visalia as a tourism, convention and event destination.
A petition to form the district was signed by the nine largest hotels in the city in September 2017 and submitted to the City on Oct. 2. Chagan, owner of the Downtown Comfort Suites and the Hampton Inn in Visalia, chaired the Committee and proposed the district. Still on the Committee are Samantha Rummage-Mathias of the Wyndham Hotel,Visalia, Carrie Groover of the Marriott and Robert Lee of the Lamp Liter Inn. Additional board members since then have been Ashok Patel of America’s Best Value Inn, Doshi Myrick of Holiday Inn Express and Manish Daya of Majestic Inn.
The proposed TMD includes all lodging businesses with more than 20 hotel rooms located within the city limits. Out of the 18 lodging facilities in Visalia, 15 are included in the proposed VTMD, as Murphy’s Motel, Relax Inn and the Spaulding House Bed and Breakfast all have fewer than 20 rooms.
The City Council formed the district because it will be responsible for collecting the tax on a monthly basis (including any delinquencies, penalties and interest) from each business. At its Nov. 7, 2017 meeting, the City Council held a public comment but no one spoke for or against the formation of the district. A public hearing on the district will be held at the Council’s Dec. 4 meeting.
The TMD is operating on a five-year term that began on Jan. 1, 2018 and runs through Dec. 31, 2022. Once per year, there will be a 30-day period in which owners paying more than fifty percent (50%) of the assessment may protest and initiate a City Council hearing to terminate the district. The TMD would also create a new corporation, the Visalia Tourism Marketing District Corporation, an association of local hotel owners charged with managing funds and implementing programs in accordance with this spending plan.
The TMD is expected to raise approximately $530,000 per year with more than three-quarters (77%) of the annual budget will be spent on sales and marketing. The remaining 23% include administration and operation of the funds, a collection/processing fee to the City and to create a contingency or reserve fund. That would be in addition to the $295,000 the City currently contracts for with the Visalia Convention & Visitors Bureau.
The first TMD was formed in West Hollywood, California in 1989. Since then, over 100 California districts have followed suit. California’s TMDs — including Fresno, Stockton, Davis, and Madera Counties — collectively raise more than $250 million for local destination marketing.
“With competitors raising their budgets, and increasing rivalry for visitor dollars, it is important that Visalia lodging businesses invest in stable, lodging-specific marketing programs,” the committee wrote in its presentation to the City two years ago.