Travel website rates Visalia as the second most “Beautiful California Towns” their readers love to visit
VISALIA – Visalia has long thought of itself as a hidden gem nestled in the shadows of giants high above the great valley between Southern California and the Bay Area. Known for its agricultural bounty and proximity to Sequoia National Park, Visalia is the oldest city between Los Angeles and Stockton and has a vibrant downtown filled with specialty shopping, high-rated hotels and delicious dining.
But now, the secret of Visalia’s quaintness is out, thanks to the work of Visit Visalia, the tourism marketing organization promoting the city to potential visitors. Just last week, Visalia was runner-up on a list of “16 Beautiful California Towns Our Readers Love” on Travel Awaits, a website catering to 50-somethings looking for unique destinations.
The article’s author, Erika Leonard, writes: “Nestled in California’s Central Valley you’ll find the small town of Visalia, surrounded by beautiful fruit orchards and just a short stop away from some of California’s best national parks. Visalia was founded in 1852 and you can visit museums that celebrate the agricultural history of the region. Visit one of the many orchards in the area to pick your own fruit, and explore the historic downtown area via a self-guided walking tour. Visalia is a great home base for exploring Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks where you can hike along rivers, visit waterfalls, and see the largest volume tree in the world.”
Topping the list posted on Dec. 27, 2021 was Solvang on the Central Coast. Also noted for its central location between the state’s two massive metropolitan areas, Solvang is known for its “Danish fare, history, and architecture,” including a museum dedicated to fairytale author Hans Christian Andersen.
It was high praise for Visalia, which edged out more well-known destinations such as Avalon (No. 4), the main city on Catalina Island, the world-class golf resort Rancho Mirage (No. 5) near Palm Springs, Ojai (No. 8), known for its luxurious spas, the wine tasting of Temecula (No. 10) and Paso Robles (No. 15), and the slopes and slots of South Lake Tahoe (No. 14). To read the full list, visit www.travelawaits.com/2717756/most-popular-california-towns-2021.
The recent article underscored the work done by the Visalia Convention and Visitors Bureau (VCVB), better known by its marketing arm, Visit Visalia.
Chair Anil Chagan, president of Infinite Hospitality which manages the Hampton Inn in Visalia, said 2021 was unlike any other for the VCVB. Coming off the first year of the pandemic, Visalia visitation began to rebound with Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks posting record breaking attendance from March through June as people looked for less crowded outdoor activities. Despite Kings Canyon closing for 28 days and Sequoia for 46 days due to wildfires and the Sequoia Shuttle parked for the entire year due to COVID-19 safety protocols, more than 1.5 million people visited the national parks, nearly back to pre-pandemic levels of 1.9 million visitors in 2019.
By October 2021, Visalia hotel tax revenues were $3.5 million, the highest in a decade. In the last year, visitors spent $93.3 million on accommodations, just under $79 million on food, $32 million on local transportation and gas, over $27 million on arts, entertainment and recreation, and over $28 million on retail sales in Visalia. Even the Convention Center, which was closed for half of 2021, were within 10% of the record setting year of 2019.
“In the face of adversity, the Visalia Convention and Visitors Bureau worked to proactively support and strengthen our tourism community so our destination can recover quickly,” Chagan wrote. “We are confident that tourism is a resilient industry that can lead Visalia’s recovery.”
Nellie Freeborn, executive director of Visit Visalia, presented the VCVB’s annual report to the city council at its Dec. 20 meeting. She said Visalia performed similar to Ontario, Calif., a popular site for conventions, and outperformed Fresno. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, VCVB was able to book 24 new events, or more than half of the weekends in the year. VCVB booked more room nights (11,348) than its goal (8,100), exceeding 2019.
“That was a strong year,” Freeborn said. “So to have that number, our bookings exceed 2019 bookings was pretty significant.”
Visit Visalia attended four major trade shows from January through October of last year and booked four media visits to town. Eight media writers and six influencers made the trip to Visalia for travel articles, like the one above, Instagram posts, travel blog posts, workshops, press conferences, and appearances on TV, radio and podcasts, which potentially reached as many as 1.5 million people, and Visit Visalia issued 21 of its own press releases to media. Those efforts resulted in 359 stories.
The report also points out how Visit Visalia has expanded its digital marketing footprint throughout the pandemic. In 2020, VisitVisalia.com nearly doubled its website traffic from 2019 and in 2021 those numbers more than tripled from 2019. Facebook likes for Visit Visalia were up 23%, Pinterest 31%, Instagram 38%, YouTube 40% and LinkedIn 87%.
“We anticipate that the demand that we saw it happen in domestic travel here in Visalia, that we might see a similar demand coming from our international friends,” Freeborn said.
While online impressions are important, Freeborn said VCVB is looking forward to the return of citywide conventions, international travelers and direct flight campaigns in 2022. The organization will also continue to promote Visalia as a sensory friendly city for families with autism. As the first tourism marketing organization to be designated a certified autism center, Visit Visalia has helped five other locations earn the designation and is developing a Sensory Friendly California Road Trip, an itinerary giving families with sensory sensitive diagnosis a list of autism certified attractions between San Diego and Visalia and from Visalia to San Francisco.
Vice Mayor Brian Poochigian motioned to approve a new, two-year contract with the VCVB for $347,163 in 2022 and $361,049 in 2023 and to appropriate an additional $6,676 to over the increased costs of the first half of 2022. The motion passed 4-0 as Councilmember Brett Taylor was absent.
“Your team has done an excellent job of creating partnerships, and working together,” Mayor Steve Nelseon said. “And I think you’ve got that solidified to the point where we’re all on the same page.”