The program, themed “Let’s Build Something Together,” offered presentations on how residents can work together to market the San Joaquin Valley to attract more visitors and bring in extra tourism dollars, creating more jobs along the way.
Riverbank-based consultant Virginia Madueño, who recently served as Riverbank’s mayor, hosted the conference, which attracted 125 attendees.
She recalled how delegates from China who visited the northern San Joaquin Valley in June, making stops in Patterson and Newman, appeared more impressed by the tree blossoms, vast fields and lush landscape compared to the tight, cramped cities in Los Angeles.
“Not everyone wants to go to Disneyland or Vegas,” Madueño said. “You’d be surprised how many people are interested in the scenery. When you go to Rome, of course you go to the museums, but you also want to visit the countryside. It’s beautiful!”
Patterson Mayor Luis Molina, saw the San Joaquin River just east of town as a particular regional draw.
“When we talk about destination location, we specifically talk about the San Joaquin River,” Molina said. “If you were to ask general Pattersonites what they would like to see to build our economy, the answer is more employment and attraction opportunities.”
Drawing in visitors to the valley
While the San Joaquin Valley is known more for tractors than tourism, University of California, Davis agritourism coordinator Penny Leff touted the potential for agriculture-related attractions to draw in visitors. Leff has more than 15 years experience working with small and mid-scale farmers, as well as eight years as a program manager for the Berkeley Farmers Markets.
“Agritourism is a cross breeding of agriculture and tourism,” Leff explained. “It’s a new enterprise, and it is gaining speed. Small farms are starting to lose grip in the Valley, but a way to peak interest is to have a working farm or ranches for education. It can be farm stands, farm-stays or guest ranches, classes, education and tours.”
Denise Skidmore, Hilmar Cheese Company’s director of education and public relations, believes that even small towns can offer something of value if they believe in their products. The company has grown to be the largest wholesale cheese and whey manufacturer in the world, but also offers tours and amenities for day travelers.
Tour buses that begin their trail south heading toward Yosemite National Park take a rest stop at the plant, where they are granted a tour and a special meal. These group packages have increased the plant’s economic income and offered school field trips for local students.
“We are always trying to partner with other ag programs,” Skidmore said. “Our business becomes affected when there are not many stops for travelers, so we are always eager to see an increase in businesses or attractions in the valley.”
Summit speakers stressed that tourism already is one of the state's top industries, and increasing the number of visitors to the San Joaquin Valley could serve as a major boost for the region.
The average traveler in California spends $292 million every day, said Karin Fish, vice president of operations and industry relations for Visit California, the state’s travel and tourism commission. That is the equivalent to $12.1 million an hour, or $202,000 every minute, she said.
“As of April 2013, the travel industry is leading the way as the nation’s top economic growth,” Fish said. “Travel and tourism ranks higher than the top four California exports put together.”
Leisure and hospitality rates have skyrocketed in recent years, adding 48,600 visitors between June 2011 and 2012, a 3.2 percent increase. Fish’s report shows that the top demographic of California travelers tend to be residents from China.
“California is one the top contenders for travel because it appeals to outside demographics,” Fish said. “There are five different types of travelers: those looking for family fun, culinary specialties, culture and entertainment, outdoor adventure and recreation and luxury. We have all of that.”
Prospective activities in Patterson
Patterson particularly has lots of tourism potential given its location, Madueño said.
“Patterson is on the brink of something huge,” she said. “They are in close proximity to Interstate 5, Amazon and the San Joaquin River. Patterson has that small-town charm, which is very marketable. If the vision and passion is there, they can create an amazing attraction.”
Molina expects that the annual Apricot Fiesta, scheduled to run Friday, May 31 through June 2, will be one of the grandest efforts for Patterson to attract agritourists in the near future. But he also looks to team up with local youth to discuss other potential recreational activities in the years ahead.
“Our future needs to be at the table for these discussions,” Molina said. “We should start asking them about rafting and kayaking and understanding what is fun for them. Then we can bring experts to the room and talk about networking to see what we can leverage, or what kind of results we want for our community.”
• Contact Brooke Borba at 892-6187, ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.