Tourism is big business and every city, town, and even country wants you to visit, stay a while and leave a bit of your cash behind when you say goodbye. The 11th annual Tourism Business Forum held in Riverbank at the Antigua Event Center on Thursday, March 11 was all about capitalizing on the “Staycation” phenomenon, and showcasing the region’s hidden jewels with presentations by Carl Ribaudo on sustainable tourism and Jesse Roseman on the Paddle to the Sea program.
The event center was packed with booths from vendors within the regional area from fruit and nut growers to bankers, to entertainment venues to environmental agencies all with the same message to attendees: there’s a lot to do right here in the Central Valley if you know where to look.
“This is the epitome of regional partnership,” Keith Boggs, deputy executive officer of economic development for Stanislaus County shared at the event. “We are so proud of this. It’s important for a community to tell its own story because if you don’t, no one else will.”
Riverbank Mayor Virginia Madueno kicked off the luncheon saying, “Stanislaus County has good regional destinations. We have some incredible jewels right here.”
The statement was a belief illustrated by the appearance of local attractions, The Oakdale Cowboy Museum who brought their new touch screen technology to share with attendees, Hilmar Cheese Company, and Rio Arts, just to name a few.
County Supervisor Bill O’Brien commented on the current economy and how it affected people’s decisions.
“In this economy people don’t have the money to go to all these exotic places but they can find plenty of interesting and fun things locally,” he said.
Susan Mendieta, Oak Valley Hospital Public Relations Director, said of the event, “It’s very nice. It builds awareness of the entire area.”
Ribaudo, a tourism consultant for the past 20 years, provided insight to attendees on the difference between the various industry markets with a focus on sustainable tourism.
He shared information gleaned through surveys that supported the belief that tourists were willing to pay up to 30 percent more for their vacations if the place or company was environmentally responsible, which reflected a change in attitude from previous years.
“Visitors expect companies/destinations to take care of their environmental assets,” Ribaudo said.
Ribaudo said that sustainable tourism was defined as having activities with a net benefit for economic/cultural/social/natural environment of a destination.
Examples of this would be the festivals (i.e. Riverbank Cheese and Wine, Oakdale Chocolate Festival), agriculture, and natural attractions.
Ribaudo held up a flyer for the upcoming Testicle Festival in Oakdale, eliciting a laugh from the audience as he said, “Something like this catches the eye. If it stands up to the locals it’ll stand up to the tourists. People are looking for real experiences. They’re looking for authenticity. That’s what is going to make you different and unique.”
Ribaudo went on to say that interesting was better than the cookie-cutter mold.
“Don’t think of mass tourism,” he said. “That might not always be the right way. Be interesting so that people want to find their way to you. Instead of a drive-by, you become a don’t miss.”
Dovetailing Ribaudo’s presentation, Roseman took the podium to talk about a regional program that was a success last year, Paddle To The Sea.
“Rivers can attract people,” Roseman said. “People get out there and have a lot of fun.”
And yet, he said, education about the local rivers, such as the Tuolumne and the Stanislaus, isn’t what it could be.
“Lots of kids know a lot about the rain forest but don’t know how to get to the Tuolumne River,” Roseman said.
“Water issues…we all know they exist but we want to bring fishing back to the Tuolumne. You can find adventure anywhere.”
The Paddle to the Sea program is an 18-day excursion sponsored by the Tuolumne River Trust, that starts with rafters and kayakers on the upper stretches of the Clavey and Tuolumne Rivers and travels through the Central Valley, passing through Hughson and Modesto to name a few spots, and ends in the San Francisco Bay for a celebratory finish.