Letter to Supervisors on Visit Napa Valley Funding
Bill Hocker | Jun 12, 2015
An open letter to the Napa County Board of Supervisors,
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the appropriation of fiscal 2015-16 funds for the Napa Valley Tourism Improvement District, aka Visit Napa Valley. As you know their 2014 visitor studies were recently reviewed in this NVR article: As Napa Valley's prestige increases, so do visitors
It will seem churlish perhaps to take issue with a government agency that has by all measure been a great success in dealing with the tasks assigned to it. The NVTID has done more than its fair share in adding to the "reliable market" for Napa wines envisioned in the WDO. But, as has been discussed throughout the last year, and as the county has acknowledged through the creation of APAC, and as the planning department proposals on visitation acknowledge, tourism into the county has impacts. As many have argued this last year, the development impacts of tourism and of the expanding workforce and services necessary to cater to it, will, if left unchecked, change not only the physical character of the county that we treasure but will also make less viable the agricultural resource you strive to protect.
The numbers reported in the article are presented as a great blessing, with members of the tourism industry gushing about the amounts of money and numbers of people coming into the county. But the visitation numbers also foretell a darker omen. Overall visitation has increased 6% per year since 2012. At that rate of increase, the visitor population will double from 3.3 mil to 6 million visitors in 10 years. Referring just to the international visitation, there has been a 44% per year increase. If Visit Napa Valley continues its success rate, there will be 16. 2 million international visitors alone in 10 years.
These projections represent a 2 to 6 fold increase in the number of tourists to be accommodated in the county in the next decade - not a long time in planning terms. That implies a similar 2 to 6 fold increase of event venues and accommodations and hospitality workers and tourism traffic and infrastructure, all in the next 10 years.
Many have indicated over the last year that county planning decisions need to be based on data. Visit Napa Valley has provided data that implies a very large amount of development required in the future. Much has already begun. Perhaps 70 winery projects have been approved but are still unbuilt. Perhaps 50 more are in the planning department awaiting approval. Major hotel and resort and worker housing projects are in the works. But much, much more will be needed if Visit Napa Valley continues the trajectory of its current success. And with each new development the agricultural landscape and the rural nature of our community, treasured by resident and visitor alike, is diminished.
I would urge you to take this opportunity to begin re-looking at the direct-to-consumer dogma, promoted by the tourism industry, that encourages tourism as the principal means of developing a reliable market for smaller Napa brand wines. No doubt many small wineries have a hard time reaching a market beyond the county borders, particularly if owners are unwilling to do the leg-work that their predecessors in the valley had to do to survive. But tourists-through-the-door is not the only way to promote their viability, and the county should put as much effort into developing alternative marketing strategies as they have into the tourism strategy.
Bricks-and-mortar retail is disappearing in the digital age and it will happen in the wine industry as well. The county should put its resources behind an internet sales portal for small Napa wineries. It should encourage alternative, less profit oriented, distribution organizations to market smaller labels. It should encourage tastings and sales through small-label wine markets in the municipalities giving the visitors that are here exposure to the many labels. It should support advertising campaigns not for tourism but for wine. The county might even consider supporting a Napa small-wine boutique in Hong Kong. Most importantly the county should drastically reduce the visitation allowed at wineries. Wineries should represent a need to process fruit, not a desire to process tourists.
Granted the revenues to the county from these solutions may be less than tourism development fees and TOT. But the support of agriculture as the best and highest use of the land is also not the most profitable use of the land. The county's fundamental commitment is to support an agriculture-based economy. Tourism is in competition for the land and water resources necessary for an agricultural economy.
As your predecessor, Mel Varrelman, recognized: "Tourism is a very destructive thing, I mean, anybody who thinks otherwise is just not thinking it through very clearly." We need solutions to maintain the wine industry and its agricultural resource that don't rely on ever increasing development. Please, begin to think through those solutions now.
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