What Aftershock and Farm-to-Fork Festival tell us about Sacramento’s future

Finally, tourism is above the radar, becoming one of our community’s highest economic development priorities. Political, business and civic leaders need to get behind a shared strategy to leverage assets that will make Sacramento a great destination for tourists and residents.

At its core, tourism is about attracting outside dollars. Restaurant and bar owners and retailers know firsthand how visitor spending affects their bottom lines.

But the visitors coming here for meetings, conventions, trade shows, sporting events, theater, arts and music festivals are important for another reason: The more we can get visitors to stay in hotels, the greater the revenue from transient occupancy tax, or hotel tax.

Take for example last weekend’s Aftershock Festival in Discovery Park. That event attracted 50,000 people and half of them came from outside of California, with tickets being purchased internationally and domestically in all 50 states. Festivalgoers occupied 60 percent of the hotel rooms in the city and unincorporated areas of Sacramento County.

In addition to the overall economic impact generated by visitors, Aftershock organizers spent more than $1.2 million with local businesses and created more than 1,000 part-time jobs for our residents. Even better, the majority of the wages paid to those workers probably will find their way back into our economy.

Tourist-generated funds from conventions, sporting events and festivals such as Aftershock are used primarily to finance infrastructure, such as renovating and expanding the Community Center Theater, Memorial Auditorium and the Convention Center.

Investment in the expansion of the Convention Center will create an opportunity to grow Sacramento’s appeal as a business travel destination. This project will allow us to attract larger events and provide existing customers with room to grow their business. The result will be more visitor spending.

The Convention Center is only part of the equation. Sacramento’s position as a fresh-food powerhouse is vital to our tourism future. According to Visit California and the World Food Travel Association, travelers in California spent $34 billion on food and beverages in 2016.

Sacramento’s farm-to- fork identity is an ideal way to draw national attention and spark these visitors’ interest. The Farm-to-Fork Festival on Capitol Mall attracted more than 65,000 people this year and has generated coverage from USA Today, Food Traveler magazine, and more, sharing Sacramento’s appeal with potential visitors across the country.

Our region’s agricultural bounty continues to create demand from visitors, and the demand is not limited to leisure travelers. Since 2012, Sacramento has hosted conventions for the wine industry, craft brewers, almond growers, cheese producers, food processors and international food bloggers. Between 2014 and 2018, food and ag conventions in Sacramento are projected to generate $45 million in economic impacts.

The Golden 1 Center and development of new hotels, as well as projects such as Wide Open Walls and a renewed commitment to the arts, help to make Sacramento a more appealing destination than ever.

For Sacramento to reach its full potential, we must collaborate. Mayor Darrell Steinberg and City Council members are exploring Sacramento’s tourism potential. The Greater Sacramento Economic Council, Downtown Partnership, Valley Vision, Metro Chamber and Midtown Association are also at the table.

If leaders speak with a unified voice, we will give potential investors a clear signal of who we are. Sacramento’s tourism industry offers a unifying cause that benefits us all. By making Sacramento a great destination city, we can create a richer place for those of us who call this our home.

Mike Testa is president and CEO of Visit Sacramento,