Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Tourist Study Seeks Brand for Vacaville

Tourist Study Seeks Brand for Vacaville
By Tom Hall/Staff Writer

Vacaville has plenty to offer visitors, though few travelers view the city as a "destination," according to a tourism study released Monday.

The study, commissioned by the Vacaville Conference and Visitors Bureau, named shopping as the top draw for visitors to the city and reported that most Northern Californians consider Vacaville to be a "safe and clean" town.

Antonette Eckert, the executive director of the visitors bureau, said the study will help identify and build a "brand" for Vacaville, boosting the local economy through increased hotel occupancy and sales tax revenue.

Right now, Vacaville is known for its shopping, Eckert said. The study says 75 percent of Northern Californians who have visited Vacaville have shopped in the city's premium outlet stores and 85 percent of Vacaville hotel guests surveyed rated local shopping as "good" or "very good."

But Eckert said the city lacks a "wow factor" - an attraction that makes travelers think of Vacaville as a destination spot.

"We need to create that somehow," she said. "Maybe the Nut Tree will provide it."

Three surveys were conducted. One asked residents in the Sacramento and San Francisco metropolitan areas questions about their impressions of Vacaville as well as an interview component conducted at the California State Fair. Another targeted travelers planning over the Internet their trips to Vacaville. The last asked guests in Vacaville hotels questions about the reasons for their visit and their expected activities.

Eckert said many Northern Californians surveyed expressed fond memories of the old Nut Tree, a recreation and dining landmark. The Nut Tree site is being redeveloped to include a family amusement park and 300,000 square feet of retail.

Eighty-five percent of those surveyed said they'd have interest in visiting the new Nut Tree, the report says.

"Nut Tree could change the landscape," Eckert said. "It's really an unknown at this point."

Meanwhile, the study says the city is not marketing itself enough as the host for special events, including sporting events and military reunions.

The study suggests focusing on niche markets like these will improve Vacaville's visitor base.

"We really want to be smart about who we reach out to," Eckert said. "We're not trying to be everything to everyone."

Vacaville scored low marks for nightlife, culture and outdoor activities, while scoring high on safety, cleanliness and family-friendliness. Eckert said finding the positive branding elements and expanding the marketing of those activities and characteristics is key for improving local tourism.

The study, completed by San Francisco-based Destination Analysts Inc., was the first of its kind done in Vacaville. Eckert said having the data to define why people visit Vacaville is an important first step in developing a brand strategy.

The complete brand study can be accessed at www.destinationanalysts.com/VacavilleStudy.pdf.

Tom Hall can be reached at vacaville@thereporter.com

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