What is Gilroy doing to bring in tourists?

Jane Howard

As the promise of revenues from retail is fading, the face of tourism in and around Gilroy continues to evolve and become more important to the city coffers. Gilroy Welcome Center Director Jane Howard has taken out ads around the world to let people know about all that Gilroy offers and has high hopes for new tourist attractions.
Q: The hottest news in town in the proposed development of the Great Wolf Lodge next to Gilroy Gardens. What do you think it will bring to town?
A: There are a lot of possibilities here. In seeing what they have done in other communities, it’s very exciting from a tourism perspective. It’s a destination.
Q: What do you think the city can bring in from tax dollars?
A: We have a transient occupancy tax revenue perspective (TOT) of 9 percent so it could bring in about $5.5 million a year in revenue. As of now, we bring in $1.6 million in TOT from the properties that we have. Currently, we only have 736 hotel rooms in town and the average daily rate is around $100.
When you look at that daily rate compared to Great Wolf Lodge, which is more than double of that, you can see where the numbers become of interest.
Q: How do you think the Great Wolf Lodge will affect local business; especially Gilroy Gardens?
A: I think there’s a lot of possibilities here with Gilroy Gardens and I believe the key is cross-promotion. From what I’ve read about Great Wolf Lodge is that they like to do cross-promotions.
Q: How have cities with Great Wolf Lodges benefited from having the resorts in their towns?
A: When you look at their locations Great Wolf Lodge tends to locate near large cities but not in the major cities. When you approach that strategy, being the smaller city you get put on the tourism map. Gilroy could benefit the same way. We are near San Jose and Silicon Valley. While Gilroy is not a well known as those destinations, so bringing Great Wolf Lodge here boosts our notoriety for shopping and especially our wineries.
Our wineries in Santa Clara County are not they well known and there is a lot of work we need to boost awareness. Bringing more people into town will boost that awareness. Once here many will go on the Santa Clara County Wine Trail and that’s a big deal. That increases the chances that they will come back to Gilroy to either go to the wineries or the Outlets for shopping. We really can’t put a dollar amount to this until we actually see what happens.
Q: Are there any new wineries coming into the area?
A: I understand that there will be one or two coming in. I’m not sure where they will be at the moment.
Q: Has the hot weather this summer negatively affected tourism?
A: I can speak to what I have heard from the wineries and it appears it hasn’t made a huge impact. There have been some days where people have stayed away because of the extreme heat, but I don’t think it’s made a huge impact on them.
Regarding shopping, for Labor Day weekend, which is a huge shopping weekend, the numbers for the really hot days were down. Then on Monday when it cooled down we were back to normal. So yes, it has had some impact.
We track the people who come into the Welcome Center and we also track daily temperatures and we’ve had more hot days in any year since we moved here six years ago. The rain also had a significant impact on us. That usually doesn’t affect the big international tour groups though. They get their rain gear on and they’re ready to go.
You can’t control extreme heat or weather, so when we compare years we need to compare things apples to apples. So, our numbers were flat this year, with the bad weather.
Q: How was attendance at this year’s Garlic Festival?
A: Our attendance was 20 percent better this year compared to last year, which is amazing. We were fortunate to hit a really nice window of weather. We had great attractions, like our new garlic dish and Giada De Laurentiis and our marketing team who put it all together, Articulate Solutions, put together a great marketing campaign. We also had the CalTrain express train from San Jose which helped.
I have been involved in the Garlic Festival for 24 years and I love hearing the stories about how people got involved.
Q: What group of international tourists to Gilroy is the largest?
A: By far the largest is from China. We lost some of them for a few years because of new outlet malls in the San Francisco area, but we have gained many of them back. It’s not just the tour groups, but the Chinese are becoming more comfortable traveling independently. Often they come in generations, so they come in a van of six to eight people with one of them driving. Shopping is still a very, very big deal for Chinese tourists.
Q: What else attracts Chinese tourists?
A: They are mostly attracted to shopping and the larger tourist attractions in the Bay Area. They are not very much into wine or outdoor activity. The Outlets have a lot of appeal because they can get a lot of value in savings, but there are also attraction brands like Coach and Michael Kors. They’re not just buying just one thing, but numerous things that they can give away as gifts.
Q: Has the online marketplace hurt the outlets?
A: There has been some change regarding the stores who have shifted from brick and mortar to just selling online. We have spoken with the management of the Outlets and there are a few more vacancies than normal, but we were told that the stores that are coming in do not focus their business online. We just got a new anchor store Ariet and Francesca’s will be opening soon.
Q: As far as tourism, what is there to do here for millennials?
A: We are looking at that from a strategic planning perspective from our organization. The downtown is addressing that with some things that have come in like Bartenders Union. Hopefully some of the wineries will eventually gain a bigger foothold downtown.
There’s also an understanding that millennials like the outdoors so trying to get the word out on that better. But also, we are launching a whole new campaign to make Gilroy a wedding destination. It’s something that has been out there, because we have so many great venues for weddings, but we are putting together a package that gets out a whole new message about Gilroy as a destination for weddings.
The package will include things to do in Gilroy other than just the wedding. Be it a shopping spree, golf or the wineries for bridal parties or other guests. That taps into a lot of millennials. We believe that we can get them down here and expose them to things, we will get them back here.
We are developing a new tourism strategy that, of course, includes the wineries, but it also includes farm stands and other experiences in the agriculture world. Since we cannot just change our message overnight, it will take some time to fully develop the plan, but we have plans to address that millennial concern.
Q: What else is on the map for downtown Gilroy?
A: Any successful downtown excels at something. Downtown Paso Robles is a great example. We recently had a speaker from Paso Robles who said they have sixty-two downtown restaurants and twenty-three tasting rooms, which is amazing.
In tourism, there are three tiers as far as destinations are concerned. Tier-one is places like San Francisco and Los Angeles, which are known worldwide. Tier-two destinations are like Monterey or Carmel. They are pretty well known but not at a level of San Francisco. For Gilroy, we want to be on the top of tier three. We are fortunate because we have the notoriety of garlic, but we want to be more like Monterey to be a yearlong destination.
Q: Are there any special events involving wineries soon?
A: We will spend a lot of time promoting our Passport Weekend, which is from October 13 through 15. Next Monday the Welcome Center has created a 30-second commercial that will be running on Comcast in over 200,000 households, that will feature the Passport Weekend. It will be on the Travel Network, Food Network, Bravo and HGTV. This is the first time we have gone with tv to promote Passport Weekend and we are hitting the zones west and east of Silicon Valley, San Jose and Gilroy because you always want to push in your area.
We have never done this before, but the Gilroy City Council has stated that they want our organization to nurture and support wine tourism and this is one of the ways we do it. We invested $5,000 in this campaign which includes TV and digital spots.
Q: What is the Passport Weekend?
A: For $40 you can travel from winery to winery with a souvenir wine glass, where you can get complimentary tastings. There will usually be live entertainment, food and it’s a great example of what our wineries can offer. Passport Weekend is starting that Friday night and then continues on Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. The wineries usually also do something for the designated driver.
This serves several purposes. It raises money for the Wineries of Santa Clara County Association, but it also brings in people to the region for a focused experience. It also showcases the region as a whole.
Q: How does traffic affect tourism in Gilroy?
A: It doesn’t right now. That’s more of a problem for bigger destinations like San Francisco. In general, Gilroy has an open, slow-paced feeling so we do very well with the baby boomers. We get an older crowd often because they want to slow down a little bit.
Q: How can Gilroy generate tourism interests from new residents to town?
A: The Chamber of Commerce and the Welcome Center have partnered in the past to send a gift basket to new residents. It’s hard to know for sure what connects with them. To me, the best way to do that is through the Garlic Festival, which has set the model as to how we market ourselves to new residents. If we can get new residents involved in that, we can gauge what interests them.
Q: What outdoors activities are people missing in Gilroy?
A: We have highlighted some hidden spots in our Spice Guide. We also tap into Santa Clara County parks website and we always promote and encourage what’s going on there.
Q: How about sports, like golf?
A: The chairman of our board is Don DeLorenzo, who also runs Gilroy Golf Course and they are doing fun stuff like Beer on the Ninth Hole, that will attract millennials. It’s not expensive at the Gilroy Golf Course, which costs $20 for nine holes. Other than that, we don’t have too much regarding sports.
Q: If I wanted to go out in Gilroy on a budget, where should I go?
A: You can have a great picnic lunch at many of our wineries, where you can bring in your own food, get a bottle of wine and enjoy the setting. It’s something that my husband and I enjoy doing. Sometimes they have music and the whole experience won’t cost you very much. Several wineries have Friday night concert nights which has been really popular too.
Q: What’s going on this winter in Gilroy?
A: We’re very excited about the Gardens at Night, which is new to us. There will be the Halloween Experience at Gilroy Gardens, which will be great for kids. It won’t be a scary theme but will rather be focused on costumes and the lights. It will also be a great date night because there will be alcohol served.
In November we will have the Harvest Festival at night at Gilroy Gardens. It is still under development, but we will have local wineries and breweries present. Again, it will be all about the lights. Gilroy Gardens has a very distinctive feel at night with lights. In December it will all be for the holidays. It will be exceptional with the ice skating rink and the human-made snow. It really feels like Christmas.