Knights of Columbus convention comes to Visalia

(Rigo Moran)

The Knights of Columbus to host annual convention at Visalia Convention Center this year, boosts area tourism

VISALIA – The Knights of Columbus will hold their annual state convention in Visalia next month, representing a major boost to local businesses and hotels.

The charitable group has been working on coming to Visalia for several years. Due to by-laws, the organization must announce its destination for the state convention five years in advance. The organization is the latest to select Visalia as its destination. The relationship could develop into a lasting one that could see the organization return for at least five years.

A press release on the matter states that there are members of 722 California Knights of Columbus chapters, representing around 800 individuals – who are also encouraged to bring travel companions will attend the conference. According to the statement, the group has booked 1,800 hotel rooms at eight area hotels.

In addition to the conference occurring between May 16 and 19, the Knights of Columbus are hosting a golf tournament called the James Scroggin Memorial Golf Tournament that will take place on May 16 at Valley Oaks Golf Course. The group is asking Visalians to sign up to participate to help raise funds for the charitable work the Knights of Columbus do.

According to Visit Visalia Executive Director Sherrie Bakke, the impact of attracting large groups has a significant ripple effect on businesses in Visalia.

“The Knights of Columbus being a new group coming to Visalia have infused a lot of new energy. They have been here several times in preparation for their state conference,” Bakke said. “It is going to be fabulous. They aren’t just limiting themselves to our convention property. It is very exciting to work with them on bringing everyone from the state here.”

Bakke added that her predecessor did a great job in reaching out to groups and encouraging them to consider Visalia as an opportunity for state conventions. She said the culmination of this visit has required buy-in from various organizations and local leadership.

Transient Occupancy Tax funds — which are paid through hotel room rentals — make up 4% of the general fund for the City of Visalia. In contrast, business license fees make up 3% despite significantly outnumbering area hotels. Bakke said that the economic gains gathered through this will also come from the attendees spending money at area restaurants and purchasing fuel.

“It is more than just having a venue, it’s having partners come together and doing really great proposals that tell groups that we want them here,” Bakke said.

She added, “We had 13 city-wide conventions in 2023. This year, we already have 20 and we still have some active proposals out.”

The growth of the industry is reflected in U.S. Labor Board statistics, which show hospitality is the fifth-largest sector of employment in Tulare County.

“We are grateful to the Downtown Property Association and Downtown Visalia. They spend a lot of money to make sure our downtown is well-kept and safe and we are excited about the new properties being developed,” Bakke said. She added that the outreach and offerings for tourism go beyond just the downtown region. She pointed to the development of Plaza Park area as an opportunity to offer tourists numerous chances to experience all that Visalia. 

“This doesn’t happen by accident, it takes planning and commitment,” Bakke said. “It takes sacrifice to make your community a better place and I think it has a lot to do with our leadership and them being visionaries. It is a pretty exciting time.” 

Bakke said Visit Visalia does extensive research on who tourists to the region are and where they come from to help guide decision-making for future planning. She said that one recent statistic is that tourism in Visalia saves the average homeowner about $400 per year in property taxes while allowing for a full complement of services.

The Knights of Columbus were founded in 1882 with the original goal of offering aid to widows and children of working men. The organization works to foster faith and social standing according to the press release. Today, the organization boasts 1.9 million members with 82,000 members residing in California. 

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