Let’s explore

Butte County’s new tourism strategy promising, but has holes; so long, Rallo’s West

I’ve been eagerly awaiting the unveiling of Explore Butte County’s plan for marketing our region as a tourist destination, and that finally happened last Wednesday (June 21). After about a year and a half in the getting-it-together phase, during which a board was assembled, a direction chosen, a marketing company hired— now it’s live, and already I’m hearing mixed reviews.

At Wednesday’s presentation in the Sierra Nevada Big Room, representatives from Explore Butte County—which is a nonprofit—explained how the process of branding Butte County evolved. Basically, in November 2015, hotels throughout the county were asked to join a Tourism Business Improvement District and collect an extra 2 percent of short-term room revenues. Sixty percent in any municipality had to say yes for the whole city to sign on. This led to a weird thing—Gridley’s hotels didn’t bite, so Gridley is strangely absent from Explore Butte County (perspective: Cohasset and Forbestown are on the list, as part of unincorporated Butte County).

I liked and identified with a lot of the messages put forth. As far as branding Butte County, for instance, the marketing team used descriptors like “laid back,” “unpretentious” and “friendly.” Right on. They also identified five target “personas.” These mostly fit for me: the casual adventurer, the college connection, the getaway artist, the beer lover and the agriculture/local food lover.

The last two, in my opinion, should probably be one. I get it. We have Sierra Nevada. It’s awesome. We also have a handful of other breweries, but some of them are so new, nobody could even think of their names when asked to write them on an inspiration board in the lobby. Did I bring my family to SN when they visited? Hell yeah. Do I consider Butte County a place to market to beer lovers? Not yet.

The website promises big things, but clearly it’s still a work in progress. The first indication of that was Googling “Explore Butte County” and not finding explorebuttecounty.com. Then, the businesses included on the site’s map are a strange lot. Under restaurants, Cafe Malvina is listed, though Caffe Malvina went out of business in 2012. At the same time, there’s no Almendra Winery & Distillery on the winery map. The suggested itineraries are kind of funny, too. I’m going to hold out hope that the list of attractions just hasn’t been fully populated yet and will improve with time.

Explore Butte County’s calculable goals are lofty: to increase travel spending from $271 million to $322 million in five years and to increase hotel revenues by $3.9 million in the same time. We shall see. I’m optimistic—that’s just who I am—but I also see a lot of work to be done.

Another sad farewell I heard some grumblings and then, before I could blink, Rallo’s West announced its imminent closure. I stopped by last week for a final sip of wine and tapas (mmm, bacon-wrapped scallop) and to give my condolences to the chef, Lenny Klishis. He says he’s already thinking of new things for the future—so I don’t think we’ve seen the last of him yet. (At least I hope not!)