As Yolo County — and the city of Davis — work to highlight their appeal as travel destinations, they’ve been buoyed by pent-up demand from those who delayed travel during much of the pandemic.
According to Terry Selk, executive director of Visit Yolo, “up until about probably two months ago, the intent and demand for domestic travel was through the roof.
“In fact,” he told two Davis City Council members during a meeting last week, “a lot of destinations were reporting much higher visitor traffic … and occupancy than even before COVID, before 2019.”
But high gas prices and interest rates, as well as inflation, are beginning to have an impact.
“There is a curtailing of some of that demand and intent,” Selk said. “Demand and intent for travel in the next two months has dropped six to eight points. The demand and intent for travel in the fall is holding steady, but if these factors continue, if gas prices (remain high) and inflation and interest rates, it might start to erode more.”
On the positive side, Selk said, during the last week of May, he had 31 international travel sellers in Yolo County for four days and “their introduction to Yolo County was like a breath of fresh air.
“Most had never been here and, in fact, many had never been to the Sacramento area and they were highly enthusiastic about what we had to show them in terms of our authenticity and the agricultural tourism experience, the less congestion, easy access, affordability.”
He saw many of those clients again a week later at a major travel show and they continued to gush about how they had found in Yolo County a “replacement for Napa Valley.”
“They were tired of sending customers to a pretentious destination that was high priced, less fulfilling, and were looking to find something more authentic. So we certainly grabbed their attention there.”
Additionally, Selk said, they were pleased by the geographically accessible nature of the area and its location between two larger travel destinations, which increasingly fits what people want when they travel.
“More and more, we’re hearing that customers don’t want to go to big cities and if they do, they don’t want to be there very long. They’re more inclined to go to destinations they’ve never heard of before or never been to before, so I walked away from this big international show that I went to — and I’ve been doing this show for 33 years — and I will tell you that the business appointments I had were the most authentically interested and more rewarding in terms of the dialogue than I’ve ever had in my 33 years of going to this show.
“I feel like we have the right product at the right time in terms of how the world has changed its travel interests. I think we’re in a very good position to capitalize on that peak interest and really start to see some movement.”
One thing to keep in mind, he told Gloria Partida and Dan Carson — the two Davis City Council members who sit on a joint city/Visit Yolo committee — is that fears about crime are deterring people from traveling to some places.
“It seems like every week there is some sort of a shooting or an issue with theft or crime and it seems to be more visible,” Selk said.
“People are becoming much more sensitive about the destinations they’re choosing to travel to based on their premise for crime and … if they’ve traveled somewhere and they’ve had some sort of engagement or negative encounter with a homeless person or a homeless environment, that destination then becomes less attractive to them for future travel.
“This crime thing that the nation is experiencing,” said Selk, “definitely has a subliminal economic impact on things like travel. People want to travel where they’re going to feel safe or comfortable walking the streets or being out in certain areas… so it’s something we always need to consciously think about — what message does our destination convey by the level of crime, the type of crime?”
He cited the city of San Francisco as an example.
“Conventions and conferences are refusing to go back to the city now because of some of the things that have happened to their conference attendees or people are hesitating to drive their cars into public areas in San Francisco because they’re being broken into. So this is something we don’t always think about, but it’s definitely an important part of the matrix which supports travel to a destination.”
Carson noted that the city recently surveyed residents — not visitors as Selk was talking about — “and (crime) became the number three issue that people mentioned … although we’ve asked our police chief to report back to us.
“We’re curious because the year-to-year crime numbers that we see don’t correspond with that and one possible explanation is … that there is this national discussion and debate and we know national discussions impact local opinions. But there may well be more to that… We don’t want to take those concerns lightly at all.”
Partida told Selk, “I do hear what you’re saying about the impact that the perception of safety has on where people visit.”
She described an encounter in San Francisco last week where a homeless individual wandered into a shop she had just entered.
“And a security (guard) walked in behind the homeless person and asked the shop owner if everything was OK and the homeless person exited the shop right away and I just noticed… how that impacted my experience. So I definitely felt safer. As much as it doesn’t bother me that much that homeless people are in my space, it was interesting to notice how that interaction made me feel.”
For more information about Visit Yolo and its activities, visit http://visityolo.com.
— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy.