Monday, February 26, 2007

Solano Cities Hope Hotels Can Help Tap Into Tourist Trade

Solano Cities Hope Hotels Can Help Tap Into Tourist Trade
By Ines Bebea

The mix of leisure activities available in Solano County, like Jelly Belly tours, may be the key to tapping into the tourism well. (Photo by Mike McCoy)

FAIRFIELD - While San Francisco and Napa are the crown destinations in the Bay Area, Solano County is positioning itself to be the unpolished diamond on Interstate 80.

With the launching of the tourism campaign, executives and elected officials from five cities along the I-80 corridor - Vallejo, Fairfield, Vacaville, Dixon and Davis - banded together to promote the myriad activities available to visitors and residents.

"All the communities realize that we have a lot to offer and have very affordable hotel prices compared to the surrounding counties," said Len Augustine, Vacaville's mayor. "That's why we hope that the proposed hotel on the Nut Tree property will attract both business travelers and tourists to not only visit but stay here as well."

The five-star full-service hotel is expected to have 200 guest rooms and a conference room with capacity for 1,000 people, Augustine said. The hotel is part of the phase two development of Nut Tree and Vacaville's tourism campaign.

"Most of the tourism to the area is from people that are bused in from other cities," Augustine said. "People come here and shop or sightsee for the day, but we want them to stay here for our hotels, sporting events, family activities and to eat in our restaurants. Tourism is an industry that is certainly growing."

The mix of leisure activities available in Solano and Yolo counties may be the key to tapping into the tourism well. According to the California Travel & Tourism Commission, the state recorded $88.1 billion total in direct travel spending in 2005, an increase of 7.6 percent over the previous year. Travel spending has increased every year since 2003. During 2005, travel spending in California directly supported almost 912,000 jobs, with earnings of $28 billion.

"Tourism will help us eliminate the economic leakage that we are suffering," said Antonette Eckert, executive director of the Vacaville Conference & Visitors Bureau. "Vacaville is a bedroom community, which means that the people that live here work elsewhere and while working they eat and spend money outside of our area. Tourism will help us fix that."

The 80on80 pilot program was created last February 2006 to educate people about what's going on in the cities that people normally drive by on their way to Sacramento and San Francisco, Eckert added. The Web site offers information about all the cities, as well as listing of activities throughout the year.

"By getting residents and visitors to spend more time here, their financial contribution will be felt on the other areas of our community," Eckert said.

But Barbara Glover, interim executive director for the Fairfield Hotel Association, wants to bring the tourism tunnel closer to home.

"What would be a win-win situation is to have those tour buses based here," Glover said. "If we get them to create a hub here, people get the hotels and recreation all in one."

With a local base for the tours, it would give visitors the extra time to spend in restaurants, wineries, museums and hotels in all the cities in the county, she added.

"Right now there are plans for two new hotels in Cordelia," she said. "One would be a Homewood Suites and the other a Stay Bridge suites hotel. They are considered extended-stay hotels for business as well as leisure, so in addition to our existing hotels, we certainly have the hotel room to accommodate the tours."

In Vallejo, the addition of the USS Iowa on Mare Island's Historic Ships Memorial at Pacific Square and the renaming of Six Flags Discovery Kingdom is expected to bring and additional 300,000 to 400,000 visitors to the area.

"Tourism is the No. 1 or No. 2 job-creating industry," said Mike Browne, executive director of the Vallejo Convention and Visitors Bureau. "It is a tremendous asset for the economy for all the cities. 80on80 is a testament to what we all offer and how to capture all the attractions."

Also, 80on80 will help to change the perception of the county from a bedroom community to a destination, he said.

"Vallejo is considered by many the gateway to the county because of our location," Browne said. "Our foremost mission is to attract the visitor from outside to stay in our hotels, while promoting the county as well to the folks that live here."

While neither Suisun City or Benicia are geographically part on the 80on80 marketing campaign, both cities are working toward attracting visitors to take advantage of their attractions and hotels.

Suisun City already approved the construction of its first hotel along the waterfront.

"Having a hotel on the water front will be huge for us," said Suzanne Bragdon, city manager for Suisun City. "It will take us from zero hotel tax revenue to $300,000. The hotel will allow us to build on the tourist trade, just like what we recently experienced with the white owl." The sighting of a rare white owl drew hundreds of birders to the Suisun Marsh.

The hotel is expected to be completed by spring or summer 2008. It will have 102 rooms.

Bragdon sees a wealth of tourism opportunities in Suisun City, from its train depot, the existing businesses and restaurants and even farm tours.

"When you talk about tourism, the county has to promote it together," Bragdon said. "While we need to continue to promote all that we have, I would be interested in seeing us promoted as the gateway to Napa. People go to Napa for the environment and fun, and they can stay here on our waterfront because it's cheaper."

The city of Benicia will add a Holiday Inn Express to its existing hotels as part of its economic investment for tourism and job creation.

"The city feels that we have been underserved when it comes to hotels," said Amalia Lorentz, economic development manager for Benicia. "We feel that the Holiday Inn is a good investment in our development of the east side of Benicia. We are a great day trip destination, but we don't have many opportunities for people to spend the night."

The construction of the 48-room Holiday Inn Express on Fifth Street will begin in March, and give the city a wider range of overnight options - it now offers bed and breakfast and a Best Western.

"This hotel won't be in downtown or in a highly commercial area," Lorentz said. "But if people stay in the city longer, it will benefit the entire community."

Reach Ines Bebea at 427-6934 or

Economic impact of travel in the U.S. 2003

(Including both U.S. residents and International Travel)

Travel expenditures* $554.5 billion

Travel-generated payroll $158.4 billion

Travel-generated employment 7.2 million jobs

Travel-generated tax revenue $94.7 billion

Trade surplus $2.6 Billion

Source: Travel Industry Association of America, Bureau of Economic Analysis/U.S. Department of Commerce

*Includes spending by domestic and international travelers in the U.S. on travel related expenses (transportation, lodging, meals, entertainment, recreation, an incidental items)

Travel Expenditures in the U.S. 1999-2003 ($Billions)

Year Domestic* International Total International Passenger Fares Grand Total

2003 490.0 64.5 554.5 15.7 570.2

2002 473.6 66.7 540.3 17.0 557.3

2001 479.0 71.9 550.9 17.9 568.8

2000 498.4 82.4 580.8 20.7 601.5

1999 467.2 74.8 542.0 19.8 561.8

Source: Travel Industry Association of America, Office of Travel & Tourism Industries/U.S. Department of Commerce

*Domestic travel expenditure estimates have been adjusted due to data revisions

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