After visiting Sacramento for an annual California tourism conference, international Visit California representatives from Dubai, Australia and the United Kingdom toured Yolo County to see what it has to offer.
Terry Selk, executive director for Visit Yolo, organized the visit since most of the representatives had “never crossed the Sacramento River.”
“It is the beginning stages of educating the world that there is a place called Yolo County and it is a bonafide tourism destination,” Selk argued. “We’ve been progressively advertising, marketing and educating domestic and international consumers and travel agents that we have a product that is appealing and should be considered when they’re traveling to visit Yosemite National Park, Lake Tahoe or Napa Valley. We should also be considered as part of those itineraries.”
Selk said he was excited to talk about what he feels Yolo County has to offer the world.
“Because they represent California, I wanted them to be educated about what it is that we can offer travelers, so I seized the opportunity to invite them for a few days to learn more about what Yolo County has to offer,” he explained.
Selk organized several stops for the representatives that would provide them with “a broad mix of the diversity of Yolo County” in a short period of time.
They ended their first day of adventures Thursday evening with a farm-to-table dinner at Lucy’s Cafe located at 16850 Yolo Ave in Esparto.
Owner Stephen Gordon prepared a three-course meal featuring locally sourced ingredients grown at his farm, other local farms and meat processed at El Toro Meat Market just across the street from his cafe.
The intimate experience and Gordon’s explanation of the work that went into growing everything on the travel representatives’ plates gave them a glimpse into the struggles and adversities Yolo County farmers face on a daily basis.
Glenn Johnston, vice president of Visit California Middle East, said he represents California’s reach in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain.
He was touched by Gordon’s experience as a farmer and business owner and believed international travelers from his market would appreciate experiences like this.
“Even though we’re here for a dining experience we’re getting a whole education about the economy of running a business, and I think you can then start to appreciate what you’re eating a lot more,” he emphasized.
Additionally, Johnston encouraged Yolo County residents, farmers and business owners to be open to the idea of international tourism in the area because of the valuable experiences and lessons it can offer.
“I understand that no one necessarily wants big hordes of tourism and they don’t want to be opening their doors privately to everyone every day, but it really is so special for us coming over,” he stressed. “Even if they can find a balance going forward to open their doors…because this is such an insight.”
The travel representatives also visited Park Winters prior to the dinner leaving a significant impression on them, including Australia representative Jo Palmer.
“I did not expect to see something of that quality here… it’s a very elevated experience,” she highlighted. “It’s refined, authentic, high quality and relaxing. Simple country.”
Selk noted that all travel representatives are from individual companies under contract with the California Travel and Tourism Commission, which funds their efforts to represent the state’s chosen interests.
“Their job is to connect with airlines, tour operators, travel sellers and media to continually inform them about why California is a destination to offer their customers,” he stated.
He used the United Kingdom as an example arguing that “it’s a very competitive set because…their predominant U.S. destinations are New York and Florida, so we have to fight for market share of getting those people to think about coming to the west coast.”
Emma Westman, communications and account director for the United Kingdom and Ireland, has worked with Visit California for 10 years and had never visited Yolo County until now.
“It’s just about finding the angles that can be used for their respective local markets,” she argued. “What’s going to interest a U.K. reader will be different to what’s going to interest the German or Australian market.”
She explained that the United Kingdom “knows California really well” because it is a “mature market.”
“They want to come back but they want to do something different, and this is a perfect place for it because the culinary and wine scene here is huge.”
She argued that even in the short period they’ve been here, “we already felt we’ve met some amazing locals, we’re starting to understand the culture here and everyone is very passionate about it.”
“We know it’s a small area, but people seem to come here for a reason,” she continued. “Yolo’s got a lot to offer and I’m really excited to tell people about what they can find here.”
Selk continued the tour on Friday, visiting notable attractions throughout the county, including The HIVE and a lavender farm tour.