How has Sacramento’s tourism economy grown over the past year? In its annual State of the Hospitality Industry luncheon June 27, Visit Sacramento’s leaders answered that question.

Visit Sacramento CEO Mike Testa opened the event with a recap of the Farm-to-Fork program and where it has come since its inception in 2012.

Last year, more than 130,000 people attended the Farm-to-Fork Festival, marking a clear success to an event some had been skeptical and dismissive of in the past.

How was that success achieved?

“At Visit Sacramento, we’ve made it a mantra – nothing in the way,” Testa said.

That attitude is not unique to Visit Sacramento, he continued, but prevails in the city as a whole, and that’s what continues to drive California’s capital forward, whether it’s large organizations, small businesses or individuals.

The expansion of the Sacramento Convention Center is under way, but there was a problem. A second ballroom was slated for the second phase of the project, and in talking to meeting planners, it was clear that the second ballroom is crucial, and it needed to be moved to the first phase.

With the mantra of nothing in the way, 2018 saw the Sacramento hotel community commit to assessing themselves to cover the ballroom’s $50 million price tag and solve the problem.

As a result of the expanded convention center, many convention clients – which bring enormous economic impact to Sacramento that directly benefits the residents – have signed on for the future. One convention, which brings in 3,000 room nights each December, is the Almond Board of California, which has now committed to coming to Sacramento for the next 10 years.

Visit Sacramento also worked with clients, Cal Expo and Golden 1 Center, among others, to ensure that during the 18-month closure of the convention center, most of Sacramento’s annual clients will keep their meetings in Sacramento.

In addition to conventions – which are the cornerstone of Sacramento’s tourism economy – Testa stressed the importance of expanding beyond that to bring in more festivals like the Aftershock Festival, which, this year, is expected to draw 97,000 fans from 11 countries.

More music festivals and youth sporting events will diversify the tourism economy, and Visit Sacramento is currently focusing on developing the facilities to house those types of events.

Sacramento Sports Commission Director Mike Sophia detailed several projects on the horizon that will help Visit Sacramento bring those events here. A proposed Sacramento Republic FC stadium in the downtown railyards is part of the team’s Major League Soccer bid, but it also would bring in a large soccer facility with multiple fields capable of hosting youth tournaments – which see strong attendance even during economic downturns.

An upcoming swimming facility in Natomas will allow Sacramento to bid on more swimming events, and if the city can also add a multi-field baseball/softball complex, it will help round out an attractive package for youth sports.

Chief of Strategy and Market Growth Sarah Atilano detailed the research that Visit Sacramento has commissioned to ensure that when convention sales managers commit to going after a convention, it is the right fit for the city.

“We’re not guessing on which events will have the biggest economic impact,” she said. “We’ve done the research and the case studies to ensure that we are targeting the most valuable business for Sacramento.”

One recent success stemming from that focused approach is that Future Farmers of America will bring thousands of visitors to Sacramento in 2021, and has also committed to coming again in 2022.

“That means 10,000 delegates, utilizing 23 hotels producing 8,300 room nights, and contributing $14 million in economic impact – that will happen twice in Sacramento,” she said. “And we are already in discussion about the potential for us to host this conference again in future years.”

Visit Sacramento is constantly trumpeting the merits of the city as a tourism, sports and convention destination, but that message hits home more when bona-fide news outlets confirm that it’s not just the tourism agency that sees the greatness here.

Vice President for Communications Kari Miskit detailed the work that goes into getting publications like The New York Times and Bon Appetit to come to Sacramento. From traveling to New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles to meet with journalists and then eventually flying them to Sacramento, there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work, and it takes not just Visit Sacramento, but hotels, restaurants, attractions and more to make it all come together.

“Once the media discover us, they’re typically instant fans,” Miskit said. “They can’t believe they didn’t know about us before. They go home brimming with stories to tell. And then we wait for those headlines in our inbox.”

Director of Strategic Partnerships Verna Sulpizio outlined Visit Sacramento’s trailblazing new way of working with partners. Gone is the traditional member organization model. It’s now replaced with a true marketing partnership model that focuses on Visit Sacramento telling the stories of what its partners are doing – whether they’re restaurants, museums, attractions, hotels, coffee bars, breweries, wineries or anything else that might interest a visitor.

And basic partnership with Visit Sacramento is now free.

Chief Marketing Officer Sonya Bradley previewed a new marketing campaign called “On Demand” that embraces real people who embody Sacramento’s rebellious spirit with an “if you don’t like it, so what?” feel designed to put people on notice that there’s more to Sacramento than they think they know.

Bradley said to expect the campaign to roll out on various traditional and digital platforms over the coming months, and it will feature some of Sacramento’s most beloved people and places.

Testa once again took the stage to highlight what was perhaps Visit Sacramento’s biggest achievement of the past year – helping bring the Michelin Guide to Sacramento.

He noted that Sacramento garnered as many stars as San Diego did and that it took Santa Barbara and Monterey combined to match Sacramento for Michelin-recognized restaurants.

Finally, Testa closed the luncheon by announcing that the 2019 Tower Bridge Dinner will be led by Chef Suzette Gresham of Acquerello in San Francisco, who has held two Michelin stars since 2015 – just one of the many accolades she has earned in her career. She will be the first female chef to lead the Tower Bridge Dinner.

“Why have one female lead when you can have five?” Testa asked. “Creating the dinner alongside Chef Gresham will be a Sacramento-based team of talented female chefs. These women offer a combination of skill, experience and diverse expertise that will result in what I believe to be one of our most exciting experiences to date.”

Those chefs include Allyson Harvie of Ella Dining Room and Bar, Molly Hawks of Hawks Restaurant and Hawks Provisions, Casey Shideler of Taylor’s Kitchen and Tokiko Sawada of Binchoyaki.

Looking ahead, Testa said he expects the expanded convention center to bring in more visitors, which will require more hotel rooms in the city. Two hotels – the Hyatt Centric adjacent to Golden 1 Center and Randy Paragary’s Midtown project – are already under construction. The Major League Soccer bid, more music festivals, more sports facilities, and even more attention on the city’s dining scene are all painting a bright picture for Sacramento’s future.