Tourism begins at home

Proprietors and officials work to keep local vacationers in their vicinity

Scott Congdon welcomes you to the Hotel Diamond in downtown Chico.

Scott Congdon welcomes you to the Hotel Diamond in downtown Chico.

Photos By Matt Siracusa

Jolene Francis grew up in Chico, and yet she has never hiked Feather Falls near Oroville—something she has always wanted to experience. Nor has she ever stayed the night at a bed and breakfast in the region.

These simple getaways are just what Francis is hoping to encourage with the “staycation” movement the Chico Chamber of Commerce is pushing this summer. Francis, president of the chamber, says getting people thinking about “hanging out locally” is the goal.

“A vacation can still be relaxing even if you are in your hometown,” she continued. “Whatever money you spend will be spent locally, and that will be a good thing for everyone.”

Not to mention, the notion of “staying local” may be a necessary progression in response to a difficult economy. With a plethora of locally run lodging staples in the area, why not “spend your money here instead of spending it in your gas tank,” Paradise Chamber of Commerce President Melissa Schuster proposed.

What’s more, Francis said, besides supporting a local business and keeping tax dollars in the community, a staycation can be more relaxing than a traditional vacation.

“No airport terminals, no baggage claims, no humorless armed guard poking through your personals in your carry-on,” she said.

The chamber is in the process of creating itineraries as part of the staycation experience, to give people ideas on places to visit and lodge in the area. Those should be completed by July.

Coming together

Others stress the importance of continued marketing of the area for tourism. Debra Lucero, director of Butte County Cultural Tourism, has been pushing to create a business improvement district in Chico, similar to those in cities such as Sacramento, where businesses in a defined area elect to pay an additional tax to fund improvements. In this case, the lodging industry would be able to implement a tax assessment in addition to the transient occupancy tax that would go directly into marketing the area.

This additional funding would allow for increased tourism development efforts, as well as an expanded visitor’s bureau, Lucero said. Currently the Chamber of Commerce serves as Chico’s visitor’s bureau, and Lucero believes there is a need for a separate organization or branch of the chamber handling tourism so the chamber could focus solely on business advocacy and retention.

While Butte County may not be a “top tourist destination” with attractions such as Disneyland or the reputation of Lake Tahoe and San Francisco, Lucero said “we do have an incredible sense of place.”

Chico alone brings in approximately $1.9 million in transient occupancy tax, Lucero said. Yet she says most of that money goes into the general fund, even though the “original intent of transient occupancy tax was to directly market an area’s assets.”

While some people may not take advantage of the area, there is plenty to see and do. Chico is home to Bidwell Park, the third-largest municipal park in the country, as well as the Bidwell Mansion and the Stansbury Home, a Victorian house giving a glimpse of 19th-century life.

Lake Oroville offers an abundance of recreational activities, as well as a drive up to Table Mountain with a vast landscape of wildlife. The “Little Grand Canyon” along the Skyway leads to the town of Paradise, with the Gold Nugget Museum and a surfeit of antique stores.

Sandy Teague, general manager at the Hotel Diamond in downtown Chico, notes the abundance of cultural and historical landmarks, museums, nightlife and outdoor activities. “There’s a lot of history in Chico people overlook,” said Teague, who often suggests guests rent a bike to tour Bidwell Park, go kayaking on the lake and then participate in the culture and entertainment downtown, or even listen to the jazz in the hotel restaurant, Johnnie’s, on a Friday or Saturday night.

Cory Davis, proprietor of Cory’s Country Inn, shows off the local art that distinguishes her bed and breakfast from others.

Photo By Matt Siracusa

Various experiences

In Chico alone, more than 1,200 hotel rooms are available, according to Chico Chamber of Commerce Communications & Marketing Manager Alice Patterson. This number includes locally owned and operated businesses, as well as other lodging options, such as the Holiday Inn, Oxford Suites and the Marriott.

As far as exploring options in the area, Lucero stresses that “wherever you are staying, it depends on what experience you are looking for.” Thinking about the staycation, Lucero said she would recommend staying at the local bed and breakfasts—all locally owned and quaint with varying themes, she said.

There’s the historic Goodman House, a five-room bed and breakfast that was remodeled in the colonial-revival craftsman style, as well as the Grateful Bed, Johnson’s Country Inn, and the Durham House Inn 10 miles south of Chico on Durham Dayton Highway.

Another is Cory’s Country Inn, located on Nord Highway west of the Esplanade. The older, ranch-style home built in the 1950s doubles as an art gallery with nearly 17 local artists’ work exhibited. Each of the three rooms in the home is designed around renowned regional artists: Nancy Scott Patton, James Snidle and Lois Cohen.

Owner Cory Davis says the bed and breakfast attracts tourists as well as people “who come stay the weekend—read a book—to get away.” The grounds offer a “secret garden” with a lighted bocce-ball court to boot.

If your desire is to become acquainted with downtown Chico, the Hotel Diamond has promotions geared to staycationers. The dine-in package includes a $100 gift certificate to Johnnie’s and a welcome basket featuring locally produced products from The Harvest Shop and Maisie Jane’s, as well as Sierra Nevada mustard and Lodestar olive oil.

“Our guests feel like they are in a guest room of someone’s house,” Teague said, saying the hotel has “all the extra amenities” like robes and slippers. Also, the Diamond has a relationship with local businesses with other packages available, including Tuscan Ridge Golf Club and In Motion Fitness.

Outside of Chico, visit “a local destination that feels like it is worlds away” at the Chapelle de L’Artiste located in Paradise. Schuster, who opened the bed and breakfast in October 2005, says at least 85 percent of business is local clientele.

“I have had neighbors stay here more than once,” she added.

The place has a “mystic” vibe, she says, with an outdoor villa, a pond, island, waterfalls and an underground cave. Part of the charm is that tours must be scheduled.

Let’s not forget Oroville, with plenty of bed and breakfasts such as Lake Oroville Bed and Breakfast—one of a selection of lodging choices with a view of the lake, said Chris Robbins, marketing coordinator at the Oroville Chamber of Commerce. Another option is camping near the lake, and the floating houseboat campsites, which do book up early, he said.

Along the Feather River, one can also rent the Riverside Cottage, a fully furnished two-bedroom, two-bath vacation rental.

Catering to neighbors

Besides promoting her own business, Schuster is involved in promoting tourism in Paradise and the region to create a viable economic resource to the area. That’s important, she says, to make up for the lack of industry here. She is involved with the California Travel and Tourism Commission to bring a tourism conference to Chico in January 2010.

Her favorite thing to do in Paradise is to dine at a local restaurant and attend a performance at Theatre on the Ridge, the longest-running community theater in the northern part of the state. She says it’s that much more appealing when she doesn’t have to go a long way to get to her destination.

Options in the region are endless. So whether it is out of necessity to plan a staycation rather than a full-blown vacation, or you prefer the simplicity of the idea, the attitude in the local lodging industry is to cater to those who think local.

“If you are looking to save money this summer, there is plenty to do in Butte County,” Lucero said. “It’s amazing.”