Monday, July 11, 2005

Plans afoot to make Solano a tourism hub

By Christine Cubé

FAIRFIELD - Two separate initiatives are underway in Solano County to boost travel to the area and allow localities to cash in on the lucrative tourism dollar.

In Fairfield, tourism officials are close to naming a site for a proposed California Welcome Center. Final negotiations are underway to use a site owned by a "great friend of the tourism effort (here)," said Kevin Johnson, general manager of the Hilton Garden Inn. A local tourism movement has been a dream for Johnson since he arrived from upstate New York to open the hotel in 2002.

What's pending is the official CWC designation from the state, which would make the Fairfield center California's 12th welcome facility.

Already local tourism officials have preliminary designs of the proposed structure, which will house an orientation section with a plasma screen and a huge helping of brochures on local attractions on the 2,800-square-foot first floor. The top level, about 1,200 square feet, will feature an executive board room as well as administrative offices for the Fairfield Hotel Association Inc.

Candy Pierce, executive director of the hotel association, said the group still may not know for a few months regarding designation from the state. In the meantime, the group is focusing on construction of its Web site, and finalizing plans to construct a 62.5-foot sign adjacent to the Auto Mall to capture travelers along Interstate 80.

The sign should be up by the end of September to early October, Johnson said.

In Vacaville, officials are awaiting results from a study by San Francisco-based PKF Consulting regarding a proposed hotel and conference center as part of the Nut Tree development project.

"The city manager and assistant city manager are reviewing some of the information in the report right now, and examining some of the options," said Bob Macaulay, redevelopment project coordinator for the Vacaville Redevelopment Agency.

"They have not identified a time for a public release (of the report) or a time to review the information with city council.

"The first phase of the study looks at whether there is a market in Vacaville to support either a regional meeting and conference market or a larger convention market, which would bring in out-of-town travelers and allow the city to compete for conventioneers who would otherwise take their meetings to Napa or the San Francisco Bay Area.

The study also looks at the health of the local hotel industry, looking at overall occupancy at Vacaville's roughly 10 hotel properties.

In addition to the PKF Consulting study, there are many other tourism projects underway, said Antonette Eckert, executive director of the Vacaville Conference & Visitors Bureau, which opened in March. Among them: A visitors guide, Web site and marketing study for the bureau.

"The study will help us understand where we stand in the marketplace and who we need to go after in terms of targeting specific groups," Eckert said. The study will be complete in September.According to the California Travel & Tourism Commission, traveler spending rose 7.4 percent to $82.5 billion in 2004, marking a second consecutive year of growth. Travel spending in California directly supported 892,600 jobs with earnings of $26.5 billion.

Reach Christine Cubé at 427-6934 or

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