Petaluma, county partner to draw visitors

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Enticing travelers and generating additional tourism dollars will be a growing focus for Petaluma in the New Year as the county establishes a branding campaign and the city’s Tourism Improvement District officially gets underway.

Representatives from Sonoma County Tourism last month presented an update to the Petaluma City Council on how its three-phased strategy to support, educate and sell Sonoma County following the October 2017 wildfires had progressed.

After conducting additional research to gauge consumer perceptions and how businesses had been impacted, the SCT Board — aided by a national marketing firm — held interviews with over 75 stakeholders across the region, and narrowed down a list of descriptors before landing on the new slogan, “Life opens up.”

County tourism officials said they are beginning a comprehensive marketing campaign this month, using every print and digital platform available to get the new materials out.

“The county has never really had a true brand, so this is one way in which we’ve felt it was important to galvanize the entire county behind a brand we could all feel really good about and everyone buys into,” said Todd O’Leary, vice president of marketing and communications.

As for the relationship with Petaluma, the SCT website has listings of 310 businesses and mentions local events in businesses in nearly 600 articles, O’Leary said.

For years, the SCT has helped multiply the purchasing power of Petaluma’s marketing funds, including the Petaluma Visitors Program and the Petaluma Downtown Association in previous campaigns and promotional opportunities, said PVP communications manager Colleen Rustad.

Now that the city has its own sanctioned tourism district to help revamp its approach to advertising, local officials are leaning on the SCT Board to identify the most effective strategies.

“We’re now looking at how we can begin allocating those marketing dollars, and how we can get the most bang for our buck,” Rustad said. “The digital advertising world has totally changed up the advertising landscape.”

While the PTID hopes to increase overnight stays in Petaluma, it won’t necessarily be an overnight success.

The first year will be foundational, said Kirk Lok, owner of the Quality Inn and one of the driving forces behind the PTID. The operating group, the Petaluma Lodging Association, will establish its infrastructure, start collecting the tax, boost the PVP, and look for the right opportunities to conduct its own campaigns later in the year after funds have been generated, he said.

“Our goal is to tap into the kind of global branding that (SCT is) doing to make sure our hotels and our restaurants, and all the other visitor-related businesses are able to catch our share with the program we’re proposing,” Lok said. “It’s a hand-and-glove relationship.”

The district, which launched this week, will be funded by assessing a 2 percent tax on all hotels and lodging, generating an estimated $660,000 in revenue its first year. It will also relieve the city of its $248,000 General Fund obligation to the visitor’s program.

The city council approved the PTID in July, and crafted its policies with local tourism representatives over the remainder of the year.

PTID proponents are hopeful that better marketing will lead to more tourism dollars, which, in turn, translates to more sales and occupancy tax revenue for the city.

Lok said the county’s promotional efforts will help draw in potential visitors from all over the world, and it’s up to the PTID to ensure those trips include a stop in Petaluma.

“We need to do it in a way that reflects our community values,” he said. “We’re uniquely different here and we’re proud of that, whether it’s a microbrewery or a restaurant that offers unique flavors. We want to broadcast that.”

(Contact News Editor Yousef Baig at yousef.baig@arguscourier.com or 776-8461, and on Twitter @YousefBaig.)

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